Five Elusive, Mysterious Whales Turn Up On Shores in Less Than Two Weeks

Several mysterious and rarely seen beaked whales, which are usually found in deeper waters, have been sighted near to the shore or even stranded, all in very quick succession.

On July 19, off the coast of the Netherlands, three beaked whales were present very close to a beach, requiring local residents to form a human barricade and ward the whales away from the shore and the risk of becoming stranded, according to the SOS Dolphin Foundation.

"Despite the fact that the species is a deep-sea whale and does not have a particularly good chance in the North Sea, we hope that the animals will be able to leave the North Sea again," said SOS Dolphin Foundation in the caption of a social media post sharing a video of the whales.

Beaked whales are a broad group of 24 species of rare, reclusive whales.

beaked whale
Stock image of a stranded Cuvier's Beaked Whale in the Galapagos Islands. Multiple beaked whales have been sighted near or on the shore across the world this month, possibly due to human interference and noise pollution. iStock / Getty Images Plus

They can grow to lengths of up to 42 feet, and are unique among marine mammals for selectively diving to extreme depths to hunt. They can exceed 9,000 feet in depth when diving, and can spend nearly four hours holding their breath underwater.

In the North Sea in particular, the structure of the seafloor is a major factor in beaked whales becoming stranded.

According to Rob Deaville, the Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme (CSIP) project manager at the Zoological Society of London, while many beaked whales wash up on the shore having died of other causes (such as predation and man-made drivers including plastic pollution and noise pollution) the shape of the North Sea is conducive to species like beaked whales ending up on the shore by accident.

"In the North Sea, there is a long historical record of beaked whale strandings," Deaville told Newsweek.

"This is primarily because of its shape: the waters off Norway and Scotland are very deep, getting shallower as you go south. If you were to design a whale trap for beaked whales, the North Sea would be perfect."

The whales, which are accustomed to deep canyons, get confused in shallower waters, ending up far too close to shore.

According to Deaville, a similar event happened in 2010 where a group of beaked whales were re-floated in the Netherlands, only to end up stranded on the other side of the English Channel, on a beach in Kent, U.K.

Only days before the aforementioned sightings in the Netherlands, a double stranding occurred in Namibia on July 8 and July 9, with two beaked whales being found on a beach in Shearwater Bay across two consecutive days.

"Here we are dealing with a large [18-foot] female and probably a very young [10-foot] animal, possibly a mother and calf pair," said Lüderitz Marine Research, a community environmental conservation group, in a post on social media sharing pictures from the beach.

"From the size and the general body shape it is possible that these animals are Layard's beaked-whales, but confirmation will only be possible when the adult jaw can be examined properly and the shape of the vestigial teeth established as well as the shape of the skull."

The responders at the scene couldn't confirm a cause of death due to the severely decayed state of the bodies.

"Human activity can often be a cause of strandings and the most likely reason for beaked whales strandings, or moving into shallower waters like this, is because of the impacts of underwater noise pollution," Danny Groves​​, a Communications Manager at Whale and Dolphin Conservation, told Newsweek.

"Whales and dolphins live in a world of sound using it to navigate, feed, breed and communicate. The introduction of loud sound in the water from seismic surveys for oil or gas, military exercises using high frequency sonar, or increases in boat traffic can interrupt their world, drive them from the places they normally inhabit and cause whales and dolphins to strand and die."

According to Deaville, particularly loud noises might lead to mass strandings due to the huge depths that beaked whales hunt.

The whales may ascend so quickly in surprise or fear that they could get the bends, killing them and resulting in them washing up on the shores nearby.

"Beaked whales are diving in deep canyon shelf habitats, which are usually very quiet. Large noises may therefore impact them more. There is theoretically capacity for [the whales to get] decompression sickness if they rapidly ascend due to the shock of a large noise," he said.