I was looking into possible effects from toxic chemicals introduced in the industry and to what degree these may be a factor in the beaching of whales and other ocean dwelling animals.

So with this in mind, I wanted to ask when did the earliest documented cases of beaching of ocean-dwelling animals happen?

Note that I am not here looking for:

  1. Cases where e.g. it has rained fish somewhere as in that sort of cases (if true) the fishes where picked up from the ocean by a tornado or something.
  2. Cases where the species beach themselves due to a natural drive to do so.

I am looking for cases where the fishes may have beached themselves involuntarily, such as due to perhaps some illness. Also, "documented" in this case would mean something that was referred to in a news article or a research study.

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    Smelt beach themselves every year near their spawning grounds - why would you care when the first person happened to document such a banal event? Nov 2 '15 at 22:15
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    @PieterGeerkens, I did not know smelt beach themselves. I was looking for indicators of beachings that happen because of some sort of illness, as the case seems to be with whales and some other animals.
    – x457812
    Nov 2 '15 at 22:21
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    @x457812 - that is a vital clarification that should be in the question. I think the definition of "beaching" is that it is voluntary. Since we don't know why beaching occurs, why should we draw a distinction between cetacean stranding and smelt stranding?
    – MCW
    Nov 3 '15 at 0:01
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    I know that at least one fish beached himself about a mumble-mumble-illion years ago, grew legs and became my great-mumble-grandfather ... :D
    – CGCampbell
    Nov 3 '15 at 16:36
  • Explicitly documented environmentalism is a very recent development, barely half my age old. It would never have occurred to a newspaper editor to even entertain writing such a story in my youth. Recall that as an increasing number of humans have become urban, their children have become increasingly fascinated by the banal event of a rural life - leading to an interest in such animal-interest stories. You might be surprised to discover that the first documentation of such an incident is only a few decades old, banal or not. Nov 4 '15 at 3:47

While not exactly records of actual events, stranded whales where important enough to the early Icelanders that they regulated them in their laws. Grágas states that you are even allowed to work to secure a stranded whale on Sundays.

Stranded whales are also recorded in sagas, such as Grettir's saga, which, among other things, records a feud over a stranded whale. While the sagas can not be taken as straight history (Grettir also encounters ghasts and witches), they can provide valuable insight into mentality and everyday happenings.


Depends in part how you want to define 'documented' - contemporary attestation or deduced by subsequent researchers?

There are a number of archaeological sites where evidence for consumption of whales has been found, which - given the difficult of hunting whales - can often be taken as evidence for beaching. See, for example, this paper, discussing samples from ~14,000 years ago:

A total of 167 plates of two whale barnacle species (Tubicinella major Lamarck, 1802 and Cetopirus complanatus Mörch, 1853) have been found in the Upper Magdalenian layers of Nerja Cave, Mina Chamber (Maro, Málaga, southern Spain). This is the first occurrence of these species in a prehistoric site. Both species are specific to the southern right whale Eubalena australis, today endemic in the Southern Hemisphere. Because of Antarctic sea-ice expansion during the Last Glacial Period, these whales could have migrated to the Northern Hemisphere, and reached southern Spain. Whale barnacles indicate that maritime-oriented forager human groups found stranded whales on the coast and, because of the size and weight of the large bones, transported only certain pieces (skin, blubber and meat) to the caves where they were consumed.


1620. http://whale.wheelock.edu/archives/ask02/0179.html beaching isn't a new thing. it isn't humans fault. nor is it accidental

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    It would be better to quote the supporting parts of your source document here to make your answer clearer (should the linked document be removed, etc.)
    – Steve Bird
    Feb 7 '17 at 6:02

From Melville's Moby DIck:

Chapter82 - The Honour and Glory of Whaling

.... Let not the modern paintings of this scene [St.George vs the dragon] mislead us; for though the creature encountered by that valiant whaleman of old is vaguely represented of a griffin-like shape, and though the battle is depicted on land and the saint on horseback, yet considering the great ignorance of those times, when the true form of the whale was unknown to artists; and considering that as in Perseus' case, St. George's whale might have crawled up out of the sea on the beach; and considering that the animal ridden by St. George might have been only a large seal, or sea horse; bearing all this in mind, it will not appear altogether incompatible with the sacred legend and the ancientest draughts of the scene, to hold this so-called dragon to be the great Leviathan himself. ...


Chapter 104 - The Fossil Whale

"Not far from the sea side, they have a Temple, the Rafters and Beams of which are made of Whale-Bones; for Whales of a monstrous size are oftentimes cast up dead upon that shore. The Common People imagine, that by a secret Power bestowed by God upon the Temple, no Whale can pass it without immediate death. But the Truth of the Matter is, that on either side of the Temple, there are Rocks that shoot two Miles into the Sea, and wound the Whales when they light upon 'em. They keep a Whalle's Rib of an incredible length for a Miracle, which upon lying upon the Ground with its convex part uppermost, makes an Arch, the Head of which cannot be reached by a Man upon a Camel's Back. ....

  • It goes back further, to at least 1719: books.google.com/… Nov 4 '15 at 14:11
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    There have been some arguments that the idiom "fish out of water" is in reference to beaching. In which case beaching would be indirectly referred to as early as 1483 in Chaucer. But this would be hard to justify since there are many ways a fish can be taken out of water. Nov 4 '15 at 14:16

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