On Sunday 2nd August there were reports that two juvenile Northern Bottlenose whales (approximately 18 feet in length) live stranded at low tide 1 mile west of Cromarty, Black Isle in the Moray Firth. News was received that a third, much larger Northern Bottlenose whale had been seen heading back out to deeper waters.
Northern Bottlenose whales are endemic to cool North Atlantic waters and can be found to the north and west of Scotland. They live in deep waters and are therefore are rarely encountered in the Moray Firth. With similar feeding behaviours to that of sperm whales, they make long, deep dives for up to 70 minutes and reach depths of over 800m on average. Once in shallow waters the chances of survival are greatly reduced since stranding will put their bodies under immense pressure and most likely cause internal injuries. This is the same species which made its way up the River Thames in January 2006, which sadly died despite rescue attempts. Attempts to free the two animals in Cromarty were made as the tide finally began to rise but these were unsuccessful and the decision was made to anesthetise both animals. Around 10.30pm as the tide came in, the smaller of the two managed to swim away into slightly deeper water. The one still stranded passed away not long after.
Whales often swim into shallow waters when they are unwell, and often members of the same family will follow. Since both the animals were juveniles the cause for them to swim into shallower waters is unknown, therefore a post-mortem will be carried out on the remaining stranded whale. On Thursday 6th August the body of a Northern Bottlenose whale was found on the shore off Cromarty. This is thought to be the second whale which was stranded on Sunday.
The rarity of these animals occurring in the shallow waters of the Moray Firth goes to show the diverse number of cetaceans that live in the waters around the UK and highlights why continued monitoring and conservation efforts are needed to keep our waters safe for cetaceans and other marine mammals.