Big news in Abergele last week- quite literally!
In the early afternoon on the 9th December, Holyhead coastguard received a call about a stranded cetacean on Pensarn beach near Abergele, Wales.
Lifeboat crews from Holyhead, Rhyl and Llandudno as well as 3 RSPCA officers were dispatched to the scene and found a whale, measuring approximately 6m, stranded in shallow water. The animal showed no signs of external injury or illness that could have caused the stranding and the decision to attempt to refloat it was made. Assisted by high tide, divers and crewmembers of the lifeboat teams managed to turn the animal around and guided it towards the open sea. Once the whale was turned around and found itself in deeper water, it swam off without further assistance. The lifeboat crews followed the animal for about a mile to ensure it did not change course or re-strand somewhere else. So far the whale has not been re-sighted which has been taken as a positive sign; cetaceans that have suffered an injury or illness will often strand again even if they are re-floated so it seems this individual was probably disorientated but healthy!
Although the whale was initially identified as a minke whale primarily due to its size, questions about its species arose when the first pictures emerged due to the size of its dorsal fin, shape of the blow and the hint of white on the right side of the jaw, all of which seem to be more characteristic of a fin whale than a minke whale.
Minke whales are one of the smallest baleen whales in the world, growing up to a maximum of 8m. They are one of the most common baleen whales in the UK. The white bands on their pectoral fins are characteristic of minke whales and easily distinguish them from other baleen whale species.
Fin whales are the second largest baleen whales in the world, growing up to 26m. In the UK, they are usually sighted in deep offshore waters and are most commonly seen in the Celtic Deep or off Western Scotland. They have a characteristic asymmetric colouration; their right lower jaw is white with a white blaze along the side of their head, while their left lower jaw is black.
A later picture, of the Abergele whale clearly shows that the right jaw of the animal is white which led experts such as Sea Watch’s Dr. Peter Evans to conclude it was a juvenile fin whale rather than the more common minke whale.
A fin whale was sighted off the Isle of Man on the 6th December a couple of days before the stranding in Abergele but it can as yet not be confirmed as being the same animal.