We sometimes get rare and unusual cetacean visitors to our shores, but often we only find out about them because of strandings.
Stranded individuals often come to shallow waters because they have something wrong with them, so it’s difficult to say whether or not they’ve made the journey for this reason alone.
The latest unusual species to strand has been a beluga whale! The badly decomposed individual was found on Lunan Bay near Montrose in Scotland.
Caroline Weir, Sea Watch observer, tells us “On 5 May a stranded cetacean at Lunan Bay, just south of Montrose in Angus, was reported by Richard Walker to the Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme (SMASS). The carcass was badly decomposed suggesting that the animal had been dead for a considerable time. Experts at the vertebrate department of the National Museums Scotland (NMS) identified the animal as a probable beluga whale based on photographs from Richard that showed some skull characteristics. Given the likely importance of this record and the need to confirm the species identification, SMASS decided to try and collect samples. The skull, scapula and two skin samples were collected from Lunan Bay on 12 May by Caroline Weir on behalf of SMASS. The skull and scapula were then taken to the NMS in Edinburgh where firsthand examination of the skull and comparison with other beluga skulls in the NMS cetacean collection confirmed the identification of the stranded animal as a beluga whale.”
Previously, individual belugas have been sighted off Western Scotland as well as the West coast of Ireland and North-East England.
Sea Watch founder and director, Peter Evans, had this to say about the recent stranding: “It is unusual to have a stranding, the last one I know of was in October 1932 at the Forth River near Stirling. I know of 12 confirmed sightings in the last 50 years, ten of which have been since 1987. These have all been in Scotland or NE England, the last seven all being from Shetland or the Highland Region. The last sighting was in January 2007 near Berriedale, East Caithness.”
If you find a stranded marine mammal please contact the relevant helpline listed on our strandings information page: http://www.seawatchfoundation.org.uk/if-you-find-a-stranding/.
If you are lucky enough to see a live beluga whale or any other cetacean species then please let us know using our online sightings form: http://www.seawatchfoundation.org.uk/sightingsform/.
Keep your eyes peeled!