Pilot whale mass stranding, Isle of Lewis

On Sunday 16 July 2023, BDMLR were alerted by the Police of a mass stranding of pilot whales on the Isle of Lewis.

Initial reports suggested there were around 55 animals consisting of both adults and calves, however shortly after this, it was reported that only 15 were alive.

Our local Marine Mammal Medics attended and administered first aid to the surviving whales, and Medics from surrounding areas prepared kit and organised transport to the island. Rescue Coordinators also facilitated flying in more refloatation pontoons from various regions across England and Scotland via Civil Air Support. The HM coastguard, Fire and Rescue, and Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme (SMASS) also attended.

One of the dead whales appeared to have had a vaginal prolapse – so it’s currently suspected that the whole pod stranded due to one female giving birth. Pilot whales are notorious for their strong social bonds, so often when one whale gets into difficulty and strands, the rest follow.

There were attempts to refloat two of the more active whales that were low down still in the water on the outgoing tide, but one subsequently restranded and subsequently died later, however the other animal did get away successfully. A further three whales died, leaving 12 still alive – eight adults and four calves.

At about 3:30pm, the local vet along with the Coastguard, Fire and Rescue, and a forensics vet came to the conclusion that the shallow beach and rough sea conditions made it too unsafe to refloat the remaining animals. Also, considering how long the pilot whales had been out of the water, it was decided the remaining whales should be euthanised on welfare grounds.

BDMLR would like to extend thanks to the Lewis community, Stornoway Coastguard, Police, Stornoway and Shawbost Fire and Rescue, SMASS, SSPCA, Civil Air Support, CalMac and, of course, our dedicated team of Medics who came together to rescue these whales. A sad outcome for this pod and obviously not the outcome we were all hoping for.

SMASS will be carrying out examinations of the bodies to conclude the cause of the stranding. We still advise that members of the public avoid the area to ensure that any post-mortem examinations can take place without interference.

Our team in the Western Isles are desperately short of response equipment now, and we are appealing for any help with donations that can go directly towards supporting them by visiting our Justgiving page here: https://www.justgiving.com/campaign/BDMLRouterhebrides

Thank you for any support you can give.

Photos: Mairi Robertson-Carrey, Christina McAvoy.