HCNSO Student Theses and Dissertations

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Defense Date


Document Type

Thesis - NSU Access Only

Degree Name

M.S. Marine Biology

Second Degree Name

M.S. Coastal Zone Management


Oceanographic Center

First Advisor

Edward O. Keith

Second Advisor

Daniel Odell

Third Advisor

Alexander Yankovsky


The occurrence of stranded cetaceans has been of interest since Aristotle and numerous theories have been advanced to explain stranding phenomena. The causes(s) of mass strandings remain unresolved, but recent investigations suggest the importance of environmental rather than biological aspects. Little emphasis has been placed on the importance of seasonal fluctuations in the number of mass strandings. Stranding data for the past 20 years in Florida, collected by the Southeastern U.S. Marine Mammal Stranding Network, show a peak in mass strandings on the Florida east coast during the winter and spring and on the Florida west coast and Keys during the summer and fall. The infrequency of mass strandings suggests that a number of factors must coexist for a stranding to occur. Correlations were found between downwelling-favorable wind conditions and stranding events. Seasonal variations in wind speed and direction create frontal convergences in the ocean environment, which can be tracked by cetaceans. Such wind induced physical oceanographic changes, if followed by cetaceans, may explain why species move from the shelf-break to the near shore environment. In addition, strandings are more likely to occur on beaches that slope gently until a point of more rapid drop-off, allowing deep water to be located nearshore. This analysis suggests that the prevailing winds and high relief areas located close to shore are important factors in the initial stages of a stranding due to their causative effect on frontal structures the week prior to an event.

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