ZSL scientists called to two whale strandings in a week
Thursday 18 August 2011
The ZSL cetacean strandings team has carried out post-mortems on a fin whale and Sowerby’s beaked whale in the space of a week.
A giant 18m fin whale stranded at Lynmouth in Devon on Tuesday 9 August. The female whale is believed to have been alive when it stranded, but died soon afterwards. ZSL scientists, together with other colleagues from the collaborative Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme (CSIP), worked into the night to conduct a post-mortem on the whale. Initial results suggest the whale was dehydrated and died of starvation.
Following the stranding of the fin whale, a Sowerby’s beaked whale was then found live stranded in Norfolk on Monday 15 August. Some cetaceans can be refloated if in a suitable condition, but in this case the whale was euthanised as it had little chance of survival.
The cetacean strandings team then carried out a post-mortem on the 3.7m juvenile female whale. Sowerby’s beaked whales feed on squid and are normally found in waters around the continental shelf in the Atlantic. Initial post-mortem results suggest that the whale died of starvation, which may be due to a lack of suitable prey in British waters.
ZSL wildlife vet Dr Paul Jepson says: “Although it is always very sad when a whale strands, an increase in the number of strandings can be an indication that whale populations are also increasing.”
ZSL scientists liaised with the local coastguards, local vets and British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) during both post-mortems.
Stranded cetaceans that undergo post-mortem examination provide important baseline data to help detect any future outbreaks of disease, unusual mortality events or responses to environmental change, all with a view to informing the long-term conservation status of cetaceans.
Information from the post-mortem examination will be added to a database on stranded cetaceans, which is managed by the CSIP and provides an essential resource for identifying factors which may cause cetaceans to strand, helping to prevent these events happening in the future.
Scientist and the stranded fin whale on the Lynmouth coast.