Whale washes up in mystery strandings

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Strong winds and currents have washed up a dead whale on the Killocraw Shore near Campbeltown, as scientists investigate a spate of mystery strandings.

The species has not yet been identified, but The Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme has reported a large number of recent strandings of Cuvier’s beaked whale.

Both live and dead whale strandings should be reported to The Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme, which explained: ‘Information collected from dead stranded animals is vital to our understanding of marine life and helps us work to improve marine wildlife protections.

‘Since the beginning of August 2018, a total of 52 Cuvier’s beaked whales have been found stranded along the western seaboard of Ireland (14), Northern Ireland (1) and Scotland (37).

‘Dead strandings can help us learn about marine animals’ diet, health and disease, the effects of pollution and bycatch, distribution, and specific threats that they face. Avoid touching the animal and always make sure to wash your hands if any contact is made; dead marine animals, like any other animal, can carry disease or infection.

The whale, as yet unidentified, stranded on Killocraw Shore near Campbeltown.
The whale, as yet unidentified, stranded on Killocraw Shore near Campbeltown.

‘This is obviously really unusual and something we, along with many of our colleagues, are working to investigate.  All of these carcases stranding in Scotland were in advanced state of autolysis and had been at sea for many days. Consequently, it has not been possible to derive much pathological information from these cases, which is a pain, as this is information we need to identify possible causes of death.

‘Cuvier’s beaked whales (Ziphius cavirostris) are native to both British and Irish waters where they occur in deep waters, typically greater than 50 km offshore. It is well documented that Cuvier’s beaked whales are one of the most sensitive species to acoustic disturbance.

‘Beaked whales, like many cetaceans, ‘see’ the world through sound, so excessive underwater noise can have potentially disastrous effects on their physiology and behaviour. Loud noise can damage the sensitive hair cells in the ear, rendering the animal functionally deaf, or cause gas bubbles to form in the tissues leading to the equivalent of the bends.

‘Unfortunately, many of the pathological indicators left by excessive exposure to underwater noise are rapidly lost after death, so in most of these cases we won’t have much to go on based on examination of the carcases alone.

‘The more cases we find, the more chance we have of being able to triangulate a possible origin for these deaths.’