Fin whale stranding, Orkney Isles

news-orkney_10th June 2020

BDMLR Medics were alerted to a possible sperm whale in difficulty on the morning of Friday 10th July near Burray, Orkney, and mobilized to the scene to assess the situation. Video soon confirmed that this was in fact a sizeable baleen whale, which was later confirmed as a 16-18 metre sub-adult fin whale.

After monitoring for some time to assess the condition of the animal and to ascertain whether the animal was entangled or not, Medics were happy that the animal was free-swimming and not caught on anything, however it was in poor condition, for which the prognosis is not good. Unfortunately, as the tide as dropped the animal stranded in shallow water. Medics have remained on the scene throughout the day to monitor its breathing rate from the safety of the shore, and to ensure it is not disturbed whilst nature takes its course.

Unfortunately, with a whale of this size, humane euthanasia to prevent further suffering is not an option, and with it being in very poor health and malnourished it would be highly unlikely to survive at sea. Whilst this whale is not fully grown it is likely to weigh in excess of 40 tonnes, which means whilst it is stranded out of the water it is crushing itself under its own bodyweight which will cause internal damage too. Unfortunately refloating a whale of this size once it has stranded is also impossible due to its size and weight. Adult fin whales can reach in excess of 26 metres in length and weigh up to 80 tonnes.

Update: Saturday 11th July.

Sadly, the fin whale has been confirmed as deceased this morning. Whilst expected, this is never the outcome we want as Medics, but it was the best outcome for this particular animal that was already heavily compromised.

Medics are currently working closely with the Scottish Marine Animal Strandings Scheme to gather as much data as possible for their records, however due to the current COVID-19 restrictions in place a full post-mortem will not take place.

Whilst members of the public are always interested in seeing these ocean giants up close, the landowner has requested that people do not visit the site and we would once again ask for his wishes to be respected. Thank you.

Photo: Dave Wakefield