ZSL announces Thames whale post mortem results
Wednesday 25 January 2006
Zoological Society of London’s veterinary scientists today presented the preliminary findings from the tragic Thames whale post mortem.
Scientists examined the whale’s body for 6-8 hours at the dock side in Denton, near Gravesend, Kent, and samples were then taken back to ZSL for further analysis.
The Thames northern bottlenose whale was a juvenile female who was probably less than 11 years old, sexually immature measured 5.85 metres in length and weighed several tons.
Dr Paul Jepson, ZSL Veterinary Pathologist said, “Preliminary findings from the post mortem examination suggest that the ultimate cause of death is believed to be the result of a combination of factors including severe dehydration, some muscle damage and reduction of kidney function.
This follows a period of up to 3 days in the Thames, an environment to which the animal is not suited. Whales and dolphins obtain water from their food. Northern bottlenose whales normally feed on deep water squid in the Atlantic Ocean. This animal would not have been able to feed while in the North Sea and so would have become dehydrated.”
Laboratory analyses for bacterial and viral infection, test for pollutants such as heavy metals and other diagnostic test are ongoing.
The most likely theory for the whale to have entered the Thames, is having got into the North Sea by mistake, the whale would have used its inherent navigational sense to try to head West, back to its feeding grounds. Based on previous scientific analysis of beaked whale strandings around the coast of the UK, strandings of this type have occurred in the past on estuaries on the East coast.
Paul Jepson, ZSL continued, “The last few days have been an unforgettable and ultimately sad experience for us all, and we are now determined that the whale did not die in vain.
The incident has demonstrated a clear message of the nation’s passion for these animals and their conservation. We are keen that all our learning from this experience is shared as widely as possible. Some tissues will go into the national marine mammal tissue bank, including that held at ZSL, providing a vital scientific resource for worldwide conservation biology.”
Image: © Marine Environmental Monitoring