SRUC Vet Responds to Rare Whale Stranding on St Kilda

Published Thursday, 19th September 2013 in SAC Consulting news

Sowerbys beaked whale stranded

A vet from the SRUC-led Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme responded when the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) reported a rarely seen Sowerby’s beaked whale and its calf had become stranded.

The 5m long adult female and 1.5m long calf were seen in distress in the shallow waters of Village Bay, Hirta, on St Kilda. NTS staff immediately attempted to refloat the animals but, sadly, were unable to successfully move the mother before it died.

The calf freed itself without assistance and was last seen swimming out to open water. Unfortunately, it is thought to be unlikely to survive without its mother, which was still lactating.

The incident at St Kilda was immediately reported to SRUC Veterinary Investigation Officer Nick Davison at the Scottish Government-funded Stranding Scheme which collates, investigates and reports information on stranded marine animals. The scheme is managed by the SRUC Veterinary Investigation Centre in Inverness. Nick travelled from there to St Kilda to perform a post mortem examination. 

Nick said: “There have been 41 recordings of this species stranding around the Scottish coasts since 1989, nearly all on the West coast and quite a few from the Western Isles. It is one of the beaked whale family (Ziphiidae) and almost all we know about this species comes from examining stranded animals.

“So it is vitally important to perform post mortem examinations on these animals if at all possible when they strand. Not only can we try and establish a cause of death but also gain insights into their life histories. It is not common for this species to strand alive in the UK, the fact that this was a mother and calf pair live stranding was even more unusual. Hopefully tests on the samples taken at the post mortem will shed light on why this animal live stranded.”

Gina Prior, NTS Seabird and Marine Ranger, said: “The loss of such an enigmatic creature is massively unfortunate, particularly where the calf has been left orphaned, but the post mortem has provided a rare opportunity to learn more about an animal that is difficult to study in the wild.”

Members of the public who discover a stranded marine animal are asked to report it by calling the Strandings Scheme on 01463 243030, tweeting @strandings or emailing stranding@sac.co.uk, giving details of the animal and its location.

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