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Friday, January 31, 2014
The whale’s identity was confirmed by cetacean experts Colin McLoud at Aberdeen University and Richard C. Sabin from The Natural History Museum as a sub-adult/maturing male Blainville’s beaked whale. These elusive whales, rarely seen in UK waters, have distinctive high arched lower jaw; the males have a more pronounced arch and a tusk-like tooth at the crest of each arch. The carcass found on Kenneggy Beach was 3.8m in length. Adult Blainville’s reach 4.5 to 6m in length, and the larger females give birth to calves around 2m long and 60kg in weight. They are dark brown to grey in colour, with many tooth rake marks and circular scars along the body caused by cookie cutter shark and parasites, both of which they accumulate with age.
Abby Crosby, Marine Conservation Officer for Cornwall Wildlife Trust, says ‘We’re very pleased that people took the trouble to report this animal to us, as by recording the carcasses of these creatures marine biologists can gather information about the species to help towards their conservation. This carcass was in a poor condition with advanced decomposition, so we would suggest that the public do not touch any dead marine animals they find, as they can carry diseases that humans can catch.’
Marine Stranding Network volunteer Syd Trudgen was called on site after the public phoned in the sighting. He says,‘I am very happy to be a Trust Strandings Network volunteer. It is very rewarding to be a part of an organisation that looks after and speaks up for dolphins, seals, whales and turtles.
They are all magnificent creatures and great credit is due to organisations such as the Trust which look after their environment and lobbies on their behalf. I am particularly pleased on this occasion as getting to the whale on Kennegy Sands was very difficult due to the poor access and the difficult climb over the rocks (not so easy with a dodgy knee!).’
These beaked whales are found in temperate and tropical waters worldwide, and like most beaked whales, they are mostly found off-shore in waters 200m to 1,000m along continental shelves. This is only the second recorded stranding of this species in the UK, since routine recording of strandings began in 1913. The only other Blainville’s beaked whale stranding recorded in the UK by the UK Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme (the national strandings scheme) was reported at Aberaeron in Wales in 1993. However, it is a species which we would expect to start stranding more frequently on UK coasts (as an occasional vagrant) as water temperatures increase in association with climate change.
Abby Crosby continues,‘It was a sad end for this amazing whale. However by examining these strandings it at least gives us a chance to investigate these animals properly and learn more about them. And the more we know, the better we’re able to fight for their protection’.
The public are urged to report stranded marine wildlife to the Marine Strandings Network on their Hotline number, 0345 201 2626, which is monitored every day of the year. For more information on the Marine Strandings Network and its work please see www.cwtstrandings.org.