Multiple whale strandings around UK

Sperm whale in Porth Neigwl. Photo credit: Gem Simmons

The last few weeks have seen a number of large cetaceans washing up in various spots around the UK. While it is a somewhat rare occurrence to have a few large whales come ashore in a short space of time, there is nothing between these cases that would link them together. There are a number of species involved over a wide geographic area, and the causes of death at the moment appear to differ from animal to animal. It’s also worth noting that some of the whales that were found deceased were quite decomposed, which tells us that they had died many days or even a couple of weeks ago, so the timing of their deaths also dilutes any potential common link between them. 

Tuesday 7 April – Sperm whale at Cleethorpes, Lincolnshire

The whale had first been seen upright in the water but by the time it stranded, it was listing to one side. Unfortunately, the tide was rising quickly and therefore there was no way for our Marine Mammal Medics to safely access the whale, and it was soon under the water. The beach safety team were able to show our Medics CCTV footage of the whale before it became submerged and it appeared to have already passed away. Read more here.

Thursday 20 April – Minke whale in North Berwick, East Lothian

A 9.5m minke whale washed up dead with no evidence of major trauma or entanglements. Samples were taken for SMASS (Scottish Marine Animal Strandings Scheme) to determine the cause of death.

Tuesday 2 May – Fin whale in Bridlington, Yorkshire

Locals and onlookers were shocked as one of the second largest cetaceans in the world appeared in the shallows, thrashing in the waves. As the tide retreated and it beached itself, the fin whale took its last breath and passed away. The animal was in poor body condition, but unfortunately CSIP (Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme) weren’t able to determine the true cause of death due to the impracticalities of moving the animal off the beach intact. Read more here.

Wednesday 3 May – Humpback whale at Loch Fleet, Sutherland

A whale was reported lying upside down in the middle of Loch Fleet which made it obvious it was already deceased. As the tide dropped, it became clear that this was a humpback whale.

Sunday 7 May – Minke whale in North Berwick, East Lothian

This minke whale was much smaller at 5.7m. The body was far too decomposed for a post-mortem examination or even any samples to be taken, but it seems the animal may have died from entanglement due to injuries on its tail fluke.

Sunday 7 May – Minke whale in Golspie, Caithness

We received report of a whale in the shallows, with the callers unsure whether the animal was still alive or not as it was being pushed around by the waves. Our Marine Mammal Medics were dispatched and found the animal, then identified to be a minke whale, dead on arrival.

Monday 8 May – Sperm whale in Porth Neigwl, Gwynedd

Marine Mammal Medics identified this live, large cetacean to be a sperm whale, however due to the high tide preventing safe access, they were only able to observe from a distance. Sadly, the whale had died by the time the tide had retreated. Our Medics noted that the whale was in incredibly poor body condition. CSIP performed a post-mortem examination in situ to determine the cause of death. The sperm whale was found to be female, and only the 4th female sperm whale to have beached in the UK in the last century.

If you ever encounter a whale close to shore or stranded on the beach:

  • Call our rescue hotline to report it and for advice on what to do next – 01825 765546 (option 1)
  • Keep a safe distance, keep noise to a minimum and keep all dogs on leads
  • Do NOT touch or attempt to move the animal – cetaceans often carry zoonotic diseases/viruses which are transmissible to humans.

You can find out more on ‘what to do if you find…’ here.