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Each year some 1200 to 1600 whales and dolphins are found stranded off the United States coastline.  "Stranded" means weak or dead, usually in the water, sometimes on the beach.  Isolated from their companions (marine mammals like  company) many of these animals are being found without their hearing, which means they can no longer survive in the deep.


Stranded dolphin
White-sided dolphin being rescued in Wellfleet, Massachusetts

Quoting a November 2010 article from the science news section of Boston.com, "Researchers are unsure [of] what is causing the hearing loss: It might be old age, birth defects, or a cacophony of man-made noise in the ocean, including Navy sonar, which has been associated with some marine mammal strandings in recent years."

Dolphins use sound -- their own signature whistles and rapid frequencies that humans hear as clicks -- to locate each other, food, and to navigate their surroundings.  In murky water (which is more and more the case today), dolphins rely heavily on audio frequencies and cannot function without their hearing.  "Sound is probably the most important sense they have," says a senior conservation scientist from the Chicago Zoological Society.

Rescuing stranded marine mammals also involves rehabilitating them and releasing them back into the wild.  But if a dolphin is deaf, it isn't going to be able to make it out there, so it may simply have to be euthanized.  The bottlenose dolphin has been found to be particularly vulnerable to hearing injury of late: 4 out of 7 stranded dolphins found stranded in coastal waters could not hear properly.  What is interfering with or affecting them in this way?

Read more here and see our Navy Warfare Testing page for more on stranded ocean creatures.

Shark attack Vandenburg AF beachOn October 22, 2010, 19-year-old Lucas Ransom was fatally bitten on his boogie board at Surf Beach in Santa Barbara, California.   It was 9 in the morning and he was 100 yards from shore.  "It was really fast," said his friend Matthew.  "You just saw a red wave and this water is blue -- as blue as it could ever be -- and it was just red, the whole wave.  Even the barrel was red."

What species of shark could it have been?  There really isn't a lot to wonder about.  A look at the board with a big jaw shape in it, and reports from witnesses that what attacked Matthew was 14 to 20 feet long ... well, it was very likely "Mr. White."  Whether the attack was provoked or unprovoked is unknown ... more details may be posted by Ralph Collier of the Shark Research Committee in the near future.  This was the second fatal shark attack in Southern California in two years, the last being Dave Martin of Solana Beach in 2008.  (See an article about the Ransom attack here.)

"They're out there," people say.  "We're in their territory -- it's just nature."  All that is true, but the encounters are more frequent now than ever.  Professor Alan Shanks of the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology reminds us that sea lion populations are soaring, and this is what is attracting great whites.  The Shark Research Committee in Los Angeles confirms that sightings of sharks on the West Coast have more than tripled in the last couple of years.  David Lowden of Coos Bay, Oregon has seen six sharks in the water since 2006, and on September 27th was rammed by a shark while surfing in the area of the Umpqua River and Winchester Bay.  "The shark was at full attack speed, nailing the tail of my board and ejecting me forward as [it] breached the surface with most of its body," Lowden reported.  The fins of his board broke off, the shark thrashed the water on its side, and headed back into the deep.  Lowden's impression was that it was somewhat confused.


Lucas Ransom's boogie board
Lucas Ransom's boogie board, bitten along with his leg
(photo courtesy Santa Barbara Sheriff's Department)

The mix of people and sharks may indeed be confusing to both forms of life.  The shark/sea-lion relationship is not, however, as it has long been part of the marine food chain.  Where the prey is, the predator goes is a central tenet of that environment, and we beach-going humans are simply getting caught in the jaws of it (no pun intended).  See our "Seal Problem" page for more.  Of note is that in the three attacks referred to above, all involved some type of gear that might have been confusing to the shark.  Surfboard, boogie board, and in the case of Dave Martin, a full black wetsuit.  All of these, either because of shape or color, suggest the mature shark's preferred food -- the seal, sea lion or pinniped.  Definitely see our seal section for more.


Shark breachingFamous Sunset Beach in Los Angeles has a few permanent residents now (in the water), who have taken to leaping skyward on a regular basis, fascinating surfers and local land folk. 
Great white sharks they are, and this species is not known to breach, says researcher Ralph Collier.  It would be great to know why the Sunset sharks are breaching ...  They are not "playful," per se, as dolphins are, and this behavior is puzzling experts.   White sharks will lunge out of the water if they're trying to catch a seal, but doing so without prey in sight is rather unusual.  It is theorized that some animals breach to loosen their skin of dead cells and barnacles from the impact of landing ... Could the sharks at Sunset be breaching because of something on their skin?


On August 22, 2010, two surfers reported to the Shark Research Committee:  "We were waiting for waves just south of the parking lot when we saw this 8- to 10-foot shark breach completely out of the water near the buoy.  At its peak, the entire body of the shark was at least 3 feet above the water's surface.  Then it flopped into the water with a big, thudding splash.  It had none of the grace of a dolphin."


White shark, Sunset Beach
Sunset Beach shark spotted by helicopter pilot, August 25th
(photo courtesy Lance O. and Ralph Collier)

Hanging out at Sunset and watching to see if GWS 1 or 2 shows itself is becoming popular.  There seem to be two large ones, and others may be in the vicinity as well.  Overall, shark sightings are rocketing on the West Coast -- a sign of a healthy comeback after Jaws compelled people to hunt them down and make exhibits of them.  Photos of the "Gladstone shark" (as the Sunset Beachers are called) can be seen here.