Scientists Befuddled by British Dolphin Suicides

By Andrew Moseman | June 12, 2008 12:49 pm

Twenty-six dolphins died on the British beach in Cornwall on MondayMore than two dozen dolphins bit the dust in the U.K. on Monday by intentionally beaching themselves, and possible explanations for this bizarre behavior have been flying around ever since.

The morbid scene happened in Cornwall, the far southwestern tip of England. One of the leading researchers, Vic Simpson of the nearby Wildlife Veterinary Investigation Centre, said the dolphin disaster could have been a mass suicide, reminiscent of some kind of cryptic cult. According to the Daily Mail, some Cornwall residents helped a few of the 26 dolphins back into the water, only to see the suicidal marine mammals intentionally beach themselves again. The dolphins had inhaled mud that clogged their lungs and stomachs, but Simpson could offer no reason why they would do this, other than some kind of crazed panic.

Yesterday The Guardian reported that the Royal Navy had been playing war games in the area, including possibly setting off depth charges not far from the Cornish coast. Some speculate that the disturbance could have sparked the aquatic mammals’ freak-out, but other scientists aren’t convinced. They say it’s more likely the dolphins were pursued by a killer whale and found themselves in the shallow and unfamiliar waters of the River Percuil, which triggered their suicides. Simpson says the dolphins could have had an infection; perhaps parasites turned them in “zombies,” as scientists have seen in caterpillars, cockroaches, and suddenly suicidal grasshoppers. But so far nothing like that has been found.

Dolphin suicide has been reported before—single dolphins under the stress of captivity have killed themselves by battering their heads against the wall or refusing to come up for air. Recently the body counts have been rising: Last autumn in Iran, 152 dead striped dolphins washed up on a beach within a week, leaving scientists and dolphin lovers similarly distraught.

British scientists say it could be months before their tests are complete, so don’t count on knowing soon why so many bright marine mammals apparently wanted to die. With increasing acidity and pollution in the ocean, and now dolphin suicides, the news for marine life just gets worse and worse.

MORE ABOUT: death, Ocean
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  • Paula Kahumbu

    The idea of mass suicide by dolphins is frankly absurd and a cowardly way for us to avoid admitting that we probably are directly responsible for this tragedy. Shame on us.

  • g

    this is a tragedy that many dolphins died and people are saying they killed themselves.

  • Dr J Doe

    am i the only one who believe’s the stranding of the dolphins is due to some other reason
    other than what has been broadcast in the media! i have clear facts that this is all due to
    climate change and is linked to the earth-quake in greece and could also be linked
    to the fire at the london power-station (solar flairs) if you want to know more
    then do some research into it! for the last month nasa and world governments
    have been on high alert due to the megastorms that have been hitting earth’s
    atmosephere and altering earths magnetic poles significantly in one
    instance magnetic north was actually situated west this in turn is causing
    havoc among naughtical terms for all involved for example: dolphins airplanes
    ships etc, the high volume of earth-quakes is due to the earths magnetic field
    being altered due to these solar storms ! do some research into it yourself
    type in google search( solar storms ), and type in ( magnetic north)
    see for yourself, the governments dont want you to know because
    they are planning to launch sulfate particles into the stratophere
    to block sun light and flairs, this has been classified as top
    secret because they are unsure of what will actually happen
    to our climate once this has been done, my knowledge
    on this matter is that it could damage the ozone layer
    and maybe even stop it from working altogether,
    for example the world is in a carefully created
    balance and has history has proven to us in
    the past everything has a negative and a
    positive value in nature, for example
    if you dont use your car for a month
    or so chances are the battery will
    go flat and it wont work, so say
    they block out solar flairs from the sun
    for 10 or so years and then discover
    the ozone has stopped working what then
    you cant exactly jump start it can you
    so my advise is leave what is unknown
    alone one other thing before finishing the
    polar caps as everyone knows are melting
    well the north pole the ice is nearly depleeted
    and this was our only deffence against the solar
    flairs actually this is the major problematic cause
    and it all started with global warming, so this is
    mother nature’s way of punishing us.

    Dr J.Doe.

  • Vibha Jaiswal

    I was sailing a dinghy in Falmouth Harbour on Monday the 9th June when we spotted a pod of about 8 dolphins. At first it was a lovely event and many people were taking photographs – at one point they swam under our boat. Unfortunately it became clear that they were determined to swim ashore. The harbour master asked the bigger boats to block the entrance to the key where we were launching the boats and the beach but they persisted. They did not appear distressed.

    One of the coastguards mentioned that Icelandic peoples used to rely on this phenomenon for food hundereds of years ago. It would be interesting to know how many such events have been recorded in history.

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  • Lazy joe

    I found your blog on google and read a few of your other posts.
    You have a great Blog!!! I just added you to my Google News Reader.
    Look forward to reading more from you in the future.

    Keep up the good work.

  • addicted to bad

    Dr. Joe,
    Use punctuation and capitlalize the first letter of a sentence.


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