Study: Beached Dolphins Often Deaf

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Richard Tesore, head of the NGO Rescate Fauna Marina, holds a baby La Plata river dolphin in Piriapolis, Uruguay. The dolphin, which was found on the beach in the city four days ago, is recovering at the reserve from injuries believed to have been caused by a fishing net.

REUTERS/Andres Stapff

Finally, an answer to the question of why such highly intelligent animals do something so seemingly dumb.

Each year, some 1,200 to 1,600 whales and dolphins are found stranded off coast in the U.S. But thanks to a study that examined brain activity in dolphins, scientists may finally have a clue as to why so many of the playful sea creatures end their life on shore.

A study published in the PLoS One journal concluded many dolphins who wash ashore have one thing in common: they are nearly deaf.

The study speculates that hearing impairment leaves the animals unable to use sound to find food or family, which can cause them to grow weary and wash ashore. By the time we humans find them they are often very weak or already dead.

(See pictures of whales.)

While researchers aren’t sure what is causing the hearing loss — it could occur at birth, happen as a result of old-age or as a consequence of man-made noise, such as Navy sonar, there still might be a bit of good news for the adorable mammals. According to the Washington Post, the study may serve as a warning for those who release injured dolphins and prevent some from unknowingly releasing an animal back into a world they cannot hear.

(Read: What Killed the Whales on Ireland’s Rutland Island.)

(See the top 10 animal stories of 2009.)