In recent weeks there has been a number of unusual marine mammal strandings across the UK. Strandings occur when a marine mammal swims or floats into shallow water, becoming beached. The exact cause of any particular stranding is often unknown, however experts can use clues from the condition of the animal, the environmental conditions (for example harmful algal blooms) and several other factors to explore potential causes for each specific stranding event.
Last week a Sowerby’s beaked whale calf stranded at Aust, Gloucestershire. The calf had been out of the water for approximately 12 hours and this, coupled with its young age, meant that despite the best efforts of the rescue team, the whale was deemed unfit for refloatation and was euthanized by the on-site vet. It has been suggested that the murky water rendered the calf’s sight almost useless, meaning it would have to rely on sonar to navigate, which would not be supported well in the muddy channel. A post-mortem examination will be carried out on this whale calf and will hopefully provide information regarding the reason for stranding. Post-mortems can also provide invaluable information about contaminant levels, diet and disease in marine mammal species.
Two separate fin whale stranding incidents were also reported last week; in Baltimore Harbour, Cork and Carlyon Bay, Cornwall. The fin whale stranded in Cornwall was visibly undernourished, with reported injuries around the eye and underside of the body and very poor overall body condition. Local witnesses stated that the whale had, in fact, stranded earlier that day, but had managed to refloat herself at high tide. The poor condition of this whale resulted in the decision to euthanize, however before this could be carried out the animal died naturally. The fin whale stranded in Baltimore Harbour was also in poor condition, being described as ‘emaciated’ and having wounded itself on sharp rocks around the pier. This whale also died naturally. Fin whales are the second largest whale species (the largest being the blue whale) and are listed as ‘Endangered’ by the IUCN.
You’ll be glad to hear it’s not all bad news! A young minke whale was successfully herded out of a harbour on the Isle of Lewis after becoming trapped in shallow water for four days. The young whale was coaxed out of the harbour by a team of BDMLR staff, volunteers, members of the public and a group of kayakers, surfers and swimmers! Although still very young, the calf made a strong swim for open water and it is hoped that it will return to its mother and stand a good chance of survival.
If you see a beached or stranded marine mammal, please notify your local SSPCA or the police.