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Beached whales

Louise Osborne
November 23, 2017

Every year, some two thousand whales are found stranded on beaches all over the world. But how do they get there? And what happens next?

 A boy looks at a 30 tons weighs dead whale after it stranded on Ipanema Beach coast in Rio de Janerio, Brazil
Image: picture-alliance/AA/F. Teixeira

Whale beachings have been recorded throughout history, and still continue at a regular rate today. A sense of human kinship with these vast creatures of the deep means that when it does happen, volunteers often turn out in their droves to try and help them back into their element. 

Their sheer size makes this a difficult task. Some species, such as the blue whale - the largest mammal on earth - are so heavy that their body weight would crush their own organs after a very short spell out of water. With the correct help, others can survive on land until the arrival of higher tides that faciliate their refloatation. But even then, it is common for them to rebeach.

When on land, the marine mammals, which have a thick layer of insulating blubber to keep them warm when swimming, are generally at risk of overheating. Pouring cold water over them can help to prevent this and buy the animals a little more time. The majority of whales that beach, however, don't make it back out to sea.

Click through this gallery to find out how whales become stranded in the first place, and what happens to a washed up carcass.