It is still a mystery why more than 200 whales washed up on beaches along the west coast of North America last year. But among the possible culprits are sunspots, a new study published Monday in Current Biology suggests. Sunspots are indicators of solar storms, which are sudden bursts of high-energy particles that can affect Earth’s magnetic field. Using 31 years of gray whale stranding data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and sunspot data from the Royal Observatory of Belgium, researchers noted that when there were more sunspots on the surface of the Sun, gray whales were more likely to get stranded on beaches, according to The New York Times. Although not yet proved, the scientists suspect solar activity could be messing with the whale’s hypothesized magnetic sense of direction.
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