Mass Sperm Whale Stranding in Italy

Between December 10 and 11 seven sperm whales washed ashore on the Italian Gargano Peninsula.

It has taken a few days to sort through the data and speculations. Necropsies are being performed by Sandro Mazzariol of Padova University.

Mass strandings of sperm whales are extremely rare in the Mediterranean. Over the centuries these include a stranding of 16, reported near Mazzara del Vallo (Sicily) in 1734, and a stranding of six which occurred near Cittanova d’Istria, northern Adriatic Sea in 1853.

Both of these incidents were prior to loud industrial noise in the ocean, and with the exception of explosives, they also predate loud military noise sources.

One of the more developed theories for the stranding by David Williams of the Deaf Whale Society advances the idea that the whales were deafened by an earthquake in the area that occurred just prior to the stranding.

Williams suggests that a tectonic thrust occurred along a feeding line just below the whales. The consequent rapid change in pressure and oscillations could have seriously damaged the animal’s sensitive hearing; and as we now understand, a deaf whale is a dead whale.

This sad tragedy also points to the fact that all animals – including humans, are subject to the impacts of natural calamities.

Photos and a video from Tethys Research are available here.

A sad affair.