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Dazed and Confused Pilot Whales

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Dazed and Confused Pilot Whales

Volunteers rescuing pilot whales

Photo: Screenshot from ruv.is

A group of pilot whales drifted into the harbor at Rif on the Snæfellsnes peninsula yesterday, RÚV reports. Members of a search-and-rescue team reacted quickly and drove the whales out te sea but for some unknown reason, pods of pilot whales regularly drift ashore.

Inhabitants of Rif noticed the whales yesterday afternoon when more than a hundred of them drifted into the mouth of the harbor. A few whales had already drifted ashore so members of the Ice-SAR team Lífsbjörg had no time to waste. Several members responded to the call and by dinnertime, the whales were out to sea again.

Pilot whales are abyssal creatures, usually spending their lives far away from land. It is not known for sure why the whales drift ashore but they might be confused when they encounter shallows on their swims.

“one theory states that pilot whales have leaders (pilots) who get confused and the rest of the group follows them blindly,” according to Gísli Víkingsson, a specialist with the Icelandic Marine Research Institute, “but this is unsubstantiated, of course. Other theories suggest that this might have something to do with the earth’s magnetic field. This happens more often in places with irregularities in the magnetic field but its one of the things they use to find their bearings. Mainly, however, they use reverberation to find their way.”

The people of the Faroe Islands still hunt pilot whales by chasing pods of them ashore. This, however, did not tempt the people of Rif.

“It’s changed nowadays. It used to be considered a desirable event and the Faroese still use this to their advantage, but we’d rather be rid of it.”

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