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'An impending quake caused whale beaching in TN'

January 22, 2016 09:19 IST

IMAGE: The beached whales in Tuticorin. Photograph: A Ganesh Nadar/Rediff.com

'The whale stranding-earthquake link is almost a certainty. I have seen it happen too often and frequently in the last 15 years.'

Dr Arunachalam Kumar is a professor and head of the department of anatomy at the Kanachur Institute of Medical Sciences, Mangalore.

In the past, he has linked the beaching of whales with natural disasters like the tsunami in December 2004.

On January 12, over 100 pilot whales came ashore on the beaches of Tuticorin district, Tamil Nadu, many of who died.

Dr Kumar, below, left, who has been studying this phenomena for years, spoke to A Ganesh Nadar/Rediff.com about the likely causes for this tragedy.

Over 100 pilot whales came ashore on the beaches of Tuticorin. Why do you think this happened?

It is my theory that cetaceans (whales and dolphins) get disoriented by shifts in the undersea tectonic plates: Their cerebral magnetic 'compass' that guides their migration and routes, gets disrupted weeks before the plates actually shift or subduct -- hence their confusion, as they are unable to orient and the alignment goes awry -- the disruption in their route map, manifests as strandings like the one recently seen in the south east coast of India.

Dr Arunachalam KumarDo you think this is an indication that an earthquake or tsunami will occur?

Strandings or beaching of large pods (more than 60) as I perceive precedes cataclysmic submarine events.

Whales are sensitive to such events weeks earlier than they actually occur.

Around two to four weeks after whale deaths and shore breaching, volcanoes, earthquakes on land masses or below the sea occur: If the submarine shift is large, then tsunamis could result.

My observations made over the years indicate that a volcanic eruption in Indonesia, earthquakes of high magnitude in Myanmar, northeast India, south China are likely within three to four weeks.

I would not rule out an earthquake on the western coast of the United States -- California with its fault-line being most vulnerable and likely.

You have linked whales beaching and natural disasters. Why?

The whale stranding-earthquake link is almost a certainty according to my reading. I have seen it happen too often and frequently in the last 15 years or so.

As to why, I can only hypothesise as I neither have the wherewithal or opportunity to study cetacean behaviour more accurately and from closer quarters.

What are the reasons which can disorient whales?

Many animals and birds posses a capacity to stick to known routes -- homing pigeons are an example. They have an in-built magnetic radar that guides their path. Change in sub-oceanic magnetic activity is sensed by whales far earlier than other animals.

Fishermen at Manappadu (Tuticorin district) remarked that none of the whales opened their mouth, even though they were dying. Could you explain this?

Whales breathe through a 'blow hole' situated on their back, they do not breathe through gills. Opening their mouths (like most dying fish do) really does not help a whale breathe. Only pouring sea water continuously on them when on land can help them stay alive.

The fishermen pulled a few whales back into the sea, but they came back to the beach and died. Why?

Once stranded, they remain stranded -- even pushing a few live ones back -- will only bring them back ashore as they have lost their sense of direction and will move only where their cerebral compass tells them to go.

The government claims that over 250 whales were pushed back into the sea. You think these whales will come back?

With due deference, I doubt if 250 whales were pushed back as claimed. If some had been and they survived, it would only be if they had been carried far into the sea by special methods like hammocks and constant wetting of their backs.

Some scientists have said that an earthquake under the sea could have disoriented the whales. Do you agree?

I agree partially. It not a quake that makes them stranded, it is disorientation caused by an impending quake that does.

There are views that changes in global temperature could have changed ocean currents and the whales must have followed the current. What is your view?

No, I do not think a rise in global temperature has anything to do with whale stranding.

Do you think the recent heavy rains in Tamil Nadu had anything to do with the temperature fluctuating in the ocean?

No again. The unprecedented deluge has nothing to do with the Tuticorin event.

You are a specialist in anatomy. When did you get interested in whales and natural disasters?

Man is, after all only an evolved animal -- hence my abiding interest in flora and fauna, especially ethology (behaviour) of animals. I have written more than 250 observatory notes on specialty natural history sites on these topics, besides authoring three books.

Anatomy as a specialty includes comparative anatomy, a study of animals also. My postgraduate topic was on bird embryology.

Are your observations based on scientific logic?

My take on the link between cetacean deaths and cataclysmic terrestrial or submarine events is not based on any scientific study. However, as the link I have often written about, do find some scientists and naturalists taking them seriously. In fact, an European oceanographer did a doctoral thesis, with many references and acknowledgements to my internet submissions on the subject.

A Ganesh Nadar / Rediff.com