Whale beached at Fraisthorpe ‘hadn’t fed for some time’

Rescuers try to help the beached whale at Fraisthorpe.''Picture by Andy Brompton.
Rescuers try to help the beached whale at Fraisthorpe.''Picture by Andy Brompton.

A POST mortem examination on a whale which died after it beached at Fraisthorpe showed it was many miles from its usual feeding grounds.

The 11ft female juvenile, which washed up at Fraisthorpe beach last Sunday, had to be put down after rescuers tried in vain to help it back to the sea.

Experts from the Zoological Society of London, who took samples for testing, say the Sowerby’s beaked whale died from a bacterial infection of the brain, called vibrio vulnificus.

The bacteria could have been found in most marine environments including estuaries and coastal areas.

It was the seventh such reported stranding this year and follows a number of whales beaching on the East Coast, including a fin whale last autumn at Spurn Point and a 33ft female sei near Skeffling, on the banks of the River Humber, which could be because of local topography acting as the “perfect whale trap”.

Rob Deaville, who leads the UK-wide Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme, said: “It hadn’t fed for some time, there were parasites in the stomach and bile in the intestinal tract. Its normal habitat is deep water close to the Continental shelf, west of Ireland and North West Scotland, not shallow coastal waters. Strandings of Sowerby’s beaked whales are uncommon. It may be they come into the North Sea which is an unfamiliar habitat and can’t feed because they have very specialist feeding behaviour, feeding on a species of squid you probably wouldn’t find in the North Sea.

“The Humber estuary is interesting – if you look at the topography there is a hook and it is quite shallow. It might be acting as the perfect cetacean trap, with the tides rushing out fairly quickly and the whales left high and dry.”

Mr Deaville said there are many factors that could cause strandings - including natural disease, increased risk of exposure to man’s activities, or simply because there are more whales about.