Happy ending for stranded humpback whale

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A young humpback whale found stranded off the shore in Dunstaffnage Bay, last week made it back out into the Firth of Lorne under its own steam.

Experts are warning, however, that, due to an increase in numbers of the species travelling up our coastline, strandings such as this could become a common occurrence.

Police, fire and Coastguard crews were called out last Thursday morning when the calf was spotted off the pontoon at the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS).

Coast guard crews were also on hand.

Within an hour of the initial sighting, Police Scotland, SAMS, Coastguard, British Divers Marine Life Rescue and Scottish Fire and Rescue were on site and working towards a solution to the plight of the marooned mammal.

Drone footage confirmed the whale was not entangled and, at around noon, with the help of a rising tide, the young whale moved out of the bay and into deeper water.

Speaking to The Oban Times this week SAMS UHI associate director for research and marine mammal expert Professor Ben Wilson said: ‘There are a number of factors that could have caused the stranding of the humpback whale off SAMS last week.

‘The whale could have been ill or injured. Whales suffer diseases just as we do and may come ashore with the current because they are too weak to avoid it.

‘It might have made a mistake while exploring or hunting fish and got itself stuck on the beach, in the same way we sometimes fall into water, or it might have been exhausted from getting stuck on another beach or getting entangled in marine debris.

‘If the whale had died, there would have been a post-mortem and one of the primary objectives would have been to establish the cause of death.

‘Fortunately, the whale managed to return to the open ocean but it does mean we will likely never know for sure why it came in this far.

‘The number of humpback whales seen off our coast is recovering after whaling in the region ended last century and, while this is wonderful news, we may expect to see more strandings as a result.’

Future stranded mammals can be safe in the knowledge however that all the stops will be pulled out to ensure a safe return to the ocean.

Dunstaffnage Bay became a hive of activity on Thursday morning as events unfolded.

The volunteer crew of Oban lifeboat launched at 11am and proceeded to the scene where emergency services, including the British Marine Mammal Rescue Divers where already making efforts to assist the marooned mammal.

The lifeboat was requested to stand off at the entrance to Dunstaffnage as the whale managed to float itself free of the beach.

With guidance from Oban’s Coastguard rescue team, the lifeboat entered the bay at slow speed.

Shortly after the whale was sighted making its own way into deeper water and eventually into the Firth of Lorne.

With no further sightings of the whale in the bay by 12.30pm, the lifeboat stood down, departing the scene and returning to Oban where she was made ready for service again by 1.25pm.

A spokesperson from the lifeboat team said: ‘This a great example of the emergency services working together, with the best outcome.’