It’s Not Just Humans Who Get Struck by Lightning

January 13, 2016 | Joanne Kennell

Sparky the bison was struck by lightning in the summer of 2013
Photo credit: Karen Viste-Sparkman/USFWS/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Animals get hit, too.

Lightning happens every day — about 100 times every second of the day.  That is a lot of lightning, and nearly 240,000 people are injured by lightning every year.  And unfortunately, 24,000 people die after being struck.

However, humans are not the only victims of lightning strikes — animals are, too.  This may surprise you because reports of these deaths are much rarer than the deaths themselves.

Back on June 25, 2014, Peter Shaughnessy and Simon Goldworthy of the South Australian Research and Development Institute in Henley Beach were counting Australian sea lion pups on the Pages Islands as part of a long-term monitoring project.  The pair found four recently deceased sea lions — an adult male and female, and two pups — lying dead at the base of a lighthouse on the island.

Through close inspection of the bodies, all the animals appeared to be well-nourished, with no injuries or sign of trauma.  They also concluded that humans were not responsible since recent stormy weather made the island too dangerous to reach by boat, and they also ruled out a toxic algae bloom because ocean conditions were not right for one.  Something else had killed them.

SEE ALSO: Did You Know Thunderstorms Contain “Dark Lightning”?

The only sign of damage to the lions were some “faint jagged linear marks consistent with burning” found on the back of the young male, the researchers wrote.  Due to this evidence, they concluded that the sea lions were more than likely the unlucky bystanders when lightning struck the lighthouse.  Staff of the Australian Maritime Systems, which runs the lighthouse, reported that a really bad strike happened on or about June 22, so bad that it destroyed electrical equipment within the lighthouse — including a radar beacon and the main light.  Could this have been the culprit?

If lightning was the cause of death for the sea lions, it would be the first report of this sort of mortality in seals, said the authors.  However, this is not the first report of scientists discovering animals killed by lightning strikes.  In 2008, 52 cows were killed when lightning struck a wire fence that they were grazing next to in Uruguay.  And in 2009 and 2010, more lightning deaths included sheep, more cows, elephants, antelope and giraffes.

However, not all strikes result in death — there are also survivors.  As seen in the above image, Sparky the bison is one such survivor.  In 2013, Karen Viste-Sparkman of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spotted the bison standing by himself with a large, bloody burn on his back — most likely the result of a lightning strike.  Luckily, he survived and was nicknamed “Sparky” as a result of his ordeal.

So if these incidents teach us anything, it is that when the conditions are prime for lightning, it is best to go indoors.  Better safe than sorry.

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