Stranded Whales Guided Ashore by Surface Currents

stranded whales guided by surface currents
stranded whales guided to beaches by surface currents in complex ways

The Great Mystery 
of the Sea

To understand the behavior of stranded whales, the first thing to do is clear your head of all the old concepts. Start fresh at the beach. Ask yourself why is a stranding also called a beaching?

Whale strandings are called beachings because 95% of the time the whales land in the sand. Knowing why that are attracted to sand will explain why they beach themselves.

Follow the rationale below:

(1) The shoreward flow of the tide and wind-driven currents generate waves that pick up sand and deposit it on shore. Said differently, where waves wash towards a spot of land, sand will pile up and make a beach. The best of these beaches often have a hooked-shaped catching arm system extending out to sea opposing the usual flow of the wind and waves. Cape Cod and Farewell Spit are perfect examples and are the leading whale strandings sites in the world. In fact, the one thing in common that all leading whale stranding sites have is a landmass that extends out opposing the general flow of the wind, waves, and current. This is where the sand piles up and where you find stranded whales.

(2) If you compare the actual time whales first touched the sand you will see that they always go ashore when the tide is rising. In other words, they beach when the surface currents are flowing towards land. On the other, once stranded, they will only swim away from the beach when the rescuers release them when the tide and currents are flowing back out to deep water. In other words, surface currents guide stranded whales both to the beach and back out to sea. Stranded whales have no acoustic sense of direction!

(3) Everything floating or swimming in a body of water without a sense of direction will always float or swim downstream with the flow of the current simply because downstream is the path of least drag (resistance). No one, not even a whale, can swim blind against a drag force.

(4) Because the current and waves carry each grain of sand to build beaches, if whales or dolphins experienced an injury that disables their acoustic sense of direction,  the odds become extremely high that the same energy that carries the sand will open a path of least drag downstream to a sandy beach. Said differently, lost whales will always swim with the flow, which will, more likely than not, eventually guide them to a beach if the sharks don’t get them first. Look briefly at the following videos of stranded whales. Notice the breaking waves washing ashore.  (video1)    (video2)    (video3)    (video4)   (video5)  (video6)  (video7)  (video8) (video9)  (video10)  (video11)  (video12).

stranded whales go ashore during incoming seas.

Now reason along with me. If what outwardly appears to be a healthy pod of whales or dolphins swim to a beach when both the breaking waves and the incoming tide are washing ashore, you can rest assured something is wrong with their biosonar system. Allow me to explain. A pod of healthy toothed whales would not be in rough seas near a roaring beach if they could echo-navigate.  They would have turned away from such danger long before the water got shallow.

When the most acoustically advanced animal on Earth swims in heavy seas towards a deadly beach on an incoming tide, you can bet your life savings that they have experienced some sort of catastrophic accident that has disabled their ability to sense direction. Healthy whales would never swim into an area where the conditions blocked their acoustic vision. They are not stupid! The ONLY conclusion is that they have lost their acoustic sense of direction and have no idea what is in front of them! Only a blind pod of whales would swim into a blind condition.

On the other hand, whale scientists tell us that stranded whales show up on sloping beaches because the slope does not return the clicking sounds they use for echo-navigation. They say that the breaking waves kick up the sand and deposit millions of tiny bubbles into the water that also block their sonar system. I agree, they are technically correct; a healthy whale’s sonar would not work in rough surf. However, healthy whales would simply turn around and swim the other way if they approached an acoustically blinding condition.

Suppose you are driving your car along a winding road in the mountains when thick clouds roll in. You cannot see beyond your hood. Would you continue running blind and maybe run off a steep embankment and kill yourself? Or, would you stop and wait until you could see again?

You’d play it safe just like healthy whales and dolphins. These animals have the greatest sense hearing of any critter on Earth. They can hear the breaking waves of a roaring beach 20 miles away. Odontoceti whales know what breaking waves sound like; they listen to them all the time. These acoustic experts have survived thousands of storms at sea. They know that the roar, the bubbles, and the swirling sand block their biosonar just like you know a thick cloud blocks your vision.

These whales also know that their echolocation and navigation does not work when the waves are breaking, filling the water with sand and bubbles. Healthy whales are afraid they might slam into a pile of jagged rocks if they swim blindly towards the shore. On the other hand, a pod of whales that had been acoustically blind for 2 or 3 weeks before arriving near shore would have no idea that they were close to land. They’d think they were in a rough sea many miles offshore. They would have no idea which way to turn since they have no acoustic sense of direction.

Stranded whales are not stupid. They’ve learned a thing or two after living in the oceans for 55 million years. Healthy whales and dolphins move many miles offshore when rough seas block their navigation.

(5) On the other hand, if a pod of whales swims ashore when the tidal or wind-driven currents are washing out to sea, then you know that their echo-navigation is functioning because no “lost” animal can swim upstream without a sense of direction. In other words, by closely observing the surface currents during beachings, you can determine if stranded whales can navigate, or if they are lost. Said differently, be suspicious if a pod of whales swims mostly downstream with the flow. If they swim against the flow, be assured they are echo-navigating. On the hand, if they linger around near shore without diving or swimming off in any direction, then you should expect the current to be calm and not flowing much in any direction. Take a look this

Said differently, be suspicious if a pod of whales always swims downstream with the flow. If they swim against the flow, be assured they are echo-navigating. On the other hand, if they linger around near shore without diving or swimming off in any direction, then you should expect the current to be calm and not flowing much in any direction. Take a look this

Take a look this video filmed from the air. You’ll see the live pilot whales lingering around in a calm sea. The only movement on the water is due to the helicopter.

(6) To go one step further, if it is true that the flow of the surface current guides all stranded whales and dolphins to the beach, then it is safe to assume that all whales that beach (dead or alive) have no sense of direction. Simply put the solution to the centuries-old mystery of why whales beach themselves is echo-navigation failure. We know this is true for dead whales. But is it also true for live stranded whales? It so, stranded whales must have experienced some sort of tragic accident that has knocked out their normally keen sense of acoustic navigation.

(7) Moreover, because echo-navigation and using echoes to find their prey are two identical parts of their biosonar system. If echo-navigation fails, echolocation also fails. Thus, whales with no acoustic sense of direction would not be able to echolocate their food. This means if you cut open the stomach of stranded whales suffering biosonar failure, you will not find fresh food.  You will find indigestible squid beaks, hard bony fish eyes, and maybe floating plastic that they mistakenly thought was eatable. Furthermore, they would also be dehydrated because all their fresh water comes from the food they eat. These two conditions (no fresh food and dehydration) are found in all stranded whales indicating biosonar failure.

(8) In fact, whale scientists should take blood samples of each adult member of a stranded pod to determine the degree of dehydration. If excessive pressure pulsations given off by natural catastrophic upheavals on the seafloor injured the entire pod at the same time, the level of dehydration in the blood would be nearly the same. This evidence would suggest that they all lost their biosonar at about the same time. We could then trace back upstream and might be able to figure out the exact seismic disturbance that caused the accident.


stranded whales often beach on Cape Cod

Whale scientists refuse to even discuss natural seafloor upheavals. But yet they agree that mass stranded whales spend their entire lives in the deep water above the most seismically active area on the planet; the mid-ocean ridge systems. The first question scientists need to answer is why only pelagic whales that live in seismic hotspots mass strand on a beach so far from their normal habitat? One would think that the very first thing they should rule out is violent seafloor disturbances.

One would think that the very first thing scientists should rule out is violent disturbances in ambient water pressure generated by an undersea catastrophic upheaval.


I offer two suggestion that might explain a massive cover-up on why mass stranded whales beach themselves: and  My work shows that mass stranded whales have obviously suffered from a pressure-related sinus injury that has disabled their acoustic sense of direction. Stranded whales have no idea where they are or how they got there.

Here’s the Perfect Stranded Whale Example:

The only time you will see whales or dolphins struggle in the breaking surf zone or up against rocks is when they swim blindly into the waves breaking over the rocky shore and have no idea which way to swim to escape. Look at the pilot whale in this video as it crashes into the rocks. The rescuers were waiting for the flow of the outgoing tide to strengthen before they released the whales. They were a little too early. You can see that the wind-driven surface currents were a bit stronger than the tidal outflow. One whale breaks away. If this whale had an acoustic sense of direction, it would not bang its head into the rocks. It would swim to deeper water without anyone’s help.

The rescuers say this whale was just confused because it had laid on the beach for 12 hours prior to re-floating. In other words, the whales echo-navigation was intact when the strong current first washed it ashore but laying on the beach caused echo-navigation failure. Laying on the beach might cause a balance problem, but not a loss of an acoustic sense. If whales lose their sense of direction laying on the beach for 12 hours, why do they suddenly recover it the minute the rescuers release them into a strong tidal outflow moving offshore?

Why is it that stranded whales can only be released with the outgoing tide?  If released when the current is still washing ashore, why do they always turn around and come right back to the beach? Why do rescue teams always pushed the whales away from the beach during the outgoing tidal flow?

Whale rescue teams would not get any donation if the public knew the whales they push into the outgoing tide were acoustically blind. Rescue teams are feeding sharks, not saving whales.

Whale scientists know that toothed whales use their cranial air spaces underwater as acoustic reflectors to channel, focus, amplify, isolate, and insulate vital parts of their hearing. This is why they should research barotrauma in marine mammals. Barotrauma in the most common injury in human divers. It is also the most common injury in stranded whales exposed to rapid and excessive changes in diving pressures generated by US Navy sonar, oil industry air guns, explosives, underwater earthquakes, explosive volcanic eruptions, and the violent impact of a heavenly body with the ocean’s surface.

Why is Barotrauma a Taboo Subject?

In case you don’t know, the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 contained 17 specific clauses that say whales must be protected based on the “best scientific information available.”  Common sense is not the best scientific information available” so good judgment matters not. This means that to legally defeat the Marine Mammal Protection Act all the Navy and oil industry has to do is make sure whale scientists never agree that sinus barotrauma is a deadly injury.

This explains why the US Navy and the oil industry sponsor 97% of all whale research worldwide. These two groups can even finance both sides of a scientific debate on any topic. All they need to do is make sure the debate keeps on going forever because while the debate is ongoing there is no scientific consensus. This is similar to whether or not an explosive noise causes deafness in marine mammals, as some scientists argue. On the opposite side is a group of scientists who argue that most stranded dolphins grow deaf from old age, birth defects, and antibiotics used to treat their infections caused by immune system failure. (Link)

Barotrauma is also the most common injury in fish with swim bladders, endangered sea turtles, seals, walruses, diving birds, and the list goes on and on. Barotrauma is far more likely to occur than is deafness because the sinuses are far more sensitive to changing water pressure than the cochlea. To suffer barotrauma all you need is exposure to a pressure pulse of about 20 pounds per square inch. The topic is so secretive that it has never been connected to marine mammals in all the scientific literature published from when the printing press was first invented until 1987 when I published the first document to ever mention barotrauma in whales. (Link) There are now two recent papers that discuss barotrauma. One by Dr. Darlene Ketten states the following:

Little is known on the effects of intense sounds and concussive forces on hearing in water for virtually any species. Evidence from human divers is largely anecdotal and often contradictory. There are few audiograms for marine mammals and no published data on temporary or permanent threshold shifts. Thus, at this stage, there are no direct measures of underwater acoustic trauma for any marine mammal and detailed descriptions of the ear are available for fewer than 20% of cetacean and pinniped species. (see bottom of page 1 at this link)

The above statement by a leading whale scientist states flatly that there is no “best scientific information available” on barotrauma and deafness. This means that the Marine Mammal Protection Act is a toothless scrap of paper. The US Navy and oil industry can make as much noise as they please and nothing can be done to stop them as long as scientists keep kissing their butts to get a grant.

Scientists know that sinus barotrauma in the cranial air spaces knocks out the whales’ acoustic sense of direction.

To account for mass beachings, sinus barotrauma must occur in the entire pod all at the same time. There are only a few things that could do this. In the order of likely occurrence, they are:

(1) Undersea earthquakes and volcanic explosion that emit powerful changes in diving pressures.

(2) Surprise encounters with a military ship using active sonar.

(3) An underwater explosion.

(4) A violent impact of a heavenly body with the surface of the sea near a pod of whales.

Mass beachings have been going on for millions of years. This makes seaquakes and volcanic explosions the first choice. And, since seaquakes are most common, they are more likely to be the number one cause of mass strandings.

An empty stomach and severe dehydration indicate biosonar system failure ~3 weeks before the beaching. With no signs of external injury, these two telltale clues point directly to internal barotrauma that caused biosonar failure.

Whale scientists ignore that the whales always travel downstream. This purposeful blindness suggests a massive cover-up involving the US Navy, NOAA, NMFS, and the oil industry.

Capt. David Williams BSc
Chairman, Deafwhale Society


Brabyn, Mark W., Ian G. McLean (1992) Oceanography and Coastal Topography of Herd-Stranding Sites for Whales in New Zealand, J. Mammalogy 73(3): 469-476

Klinowska, M. (1985) Interpretation of the U.K. Cetacean Stranding Records. Rep. Int. Whaling Commission 35:459-467

Klinowska, M. (1985) Cetacean Live Stranding Sites related to Geomagnetic Topography. Aquatic Mammals 11(1):27-32

Lein, J. (1990) Personal communications, Whale Research Group, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Newfoundland Canada

Prasad, A.S. (1992) Personal Communications, Professor of Medicine and Director of Research, Wayne State University

Williams, David W. (1988) Auditory Trauma as the Major Factor in Whale Strandings, Report Submitted to the US Marine Mammal Commission 17 October 1988