WHAT’S BEING CLAIMED:
- Dozens of dead whales were found on Thursday on a remote beach in Iceland by a group of tourists sightseeing on a helicopter.
- David Schwarzhans, the helicopter pilot, told The Associated Press his group counted at least 50 long-finned pilot whales that were beached on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula in western Iceland.
- It’s not determined what caused the mass stranding but according to a marine biologist, pilot whales travel in large numbers and they likely got disoriented in the shallow waters.
Dozens of dead pilot whales were spotted Thursday by a sightseeing helicopter tour on a remote Icelandic beach. It is not yet determined as to how the whales become beached.
According to the helicopter pilot, David Schwarzhans of Reykjavik Helicopters, he was taking a group of tourists over a secluded beach in Longufjorur when they discovered the dead whales. He immediately notified the police in the nearby town of Stykkisholmur about the tragic discovery.
“We were flying northbound over the beach and then we saw them,” Schwarzhans told the BBC. “We were circling over it not sure if it was whales, seals or dolphins. We landed and counted about 60, but there must have been more because there were fins sticking out of the sand.”
The pilot added that the sight “was tragic” and when they “stood downwind it was smelly. It wasn’t something nice to see and quite shocking since there were so many”.
According to marine biologist Edda Elisabet Magnusdottir, when the whales enter shallow waters, “most of them have a tendency to become disorientated.” She told the Iceland Monitor that pilot whales usually swim in groups, that explains the number of whales washed up on the beach.
“The most important thing to look at is that these are deep-sea whales, common at the continental margin,” Edda, who is also a whale expert, told the Monitor. “They mainly feed on squid, which is why they’re good at diving deep. When they enter shallow waters, most of them have a tendency to become disoriented.”
She added: “They use echolocation for orientation, for finding one another, estimating the depth, and so on. But a sloping, sandy bottom appears to increase their disorientation. There are numerous examples of them having beached where there is such a sandy, sloping bottom.”
In 2018, more than 140 pilot whales were found beached on a New Zealand island. Half of them were already dead upon being discovered, and the surviving whales were euthanized.
Meanwhile, during the July 4th weekend, seven dead gray whales were found on Alaskan shores.