On the 13th August a report came in of a live stranded dolphin on the seaward side of Blakeney Point, Norfolk. Edward Stubbings, a warden at Blakeney Point along with colleague Richard Berridge and photographer Richard Porter went to assist with the stranding. Upon reaching the site, the three soon realised that the cetacean was not a dolphin and later identified it from their photos as a Sowerby’s beaked whale.
Sowerby’s beaked whale was the first of the beaked whales to be discovered yet little is known about their status. They inhabit the North Atlantic and Baltic seas. They prefer deep waters and along continental shelf edges. They are known to be shy animals and are therefore rarely seen, but often strand. This is the 12th report of a Sowerby’s stranding in the UK since 2003. They typically reach around 5 metres in length and tend to live alone or in small groups. This animal was thought to be around 3.5 metres in length, and although it had a long beak and a well-developed melon, it could have been an older juvenile.
On this occasion, the Sowerby’s beaked whale was fortunately relatively unharmed other than blood coming from two small cuts on the tail fin. Within half an hour the animal was successfully refloated. At first, the whale tried to swim back to shore and the volunteers had to encourage it back out to sea. Eventually, much to the relief of everyone involved, the rescued whale headed away from the coastline and there were even reports of a second animal jumping offshore.
Whilst strandings like this are unfortunate, the reclusive nature of Sowerby’s beaked whale means that most of our knowledge about this species comes from studying stranded individuals. Thankfully, this stranding seems to have had a happy ending.