Skip to content
All articles
  • All articles
  • About whales & dolphins
  • Create healthy seas
  • End captivity
  • Fundraising
  • Green Whale
  • Kids blogs
  • Prevent deaths in nets
  • Scottish Dolphin Centre
  • Stop whaling
tins of whale meat

How Japan’s whaling industry is trying to convince people to eat whales

Japan's hunters kill hundreds of whales every year despite the fact that hardly anyone in...
Common dolphins © Christopher Swann

Did you know dolphins have personalities?

Kidzone - quick links Fun Facts Our Goals Curious kids Kids blogs Fantastic fundraisers Gallery...
Microplastics on beach

Blue whales and the menace of microplastics – how we’ll solve this problem

Our love affair with plastic began in the 1950s when it revolutionised manufacturing. But what...
A dolphin called Arnie with his shell.

Dolphins catch fish using giant shell tools

In Shark Bay, Australia, two groups of dolphins have figured out how to use tools...
Common dolphins at surface

Did you know that dolphins have unique personalities?

We all have personalities, and between the work Christmas party and your family get-together, perhaps...
Leaping harbour porpoise

The power of harbour porpoise poo

We know we need to save the whale to save the world. Now we are...
Holly. Image: Miray Campbell

Meet Holly, she’s an incredible orca leader

Let me tell you the story of an awe-inspiring orca with a fascinating family story...
The Last Whale

The Last Whale – your chance to win a copy of new book

Kidzone - quick links Fun Facts Our Goals Curious kids Kids blogs Fantastic fundraisers Gallery...

A sperm whale stranded on my doorstep

When I stepped out of my van and saw the whale that had stranded early on Saturday on Edinburgh’s shore, just 10 minutes from my flat, it took me a minute to compose myself. Although led on his side, belly facing the beach, mostly submerged by the rising tide, there was no doubt this was a sperm whale. Although he wasn’t quite fully grown, a whale ‘teenager’, at almost 14 metres he was still a sight to behold.

As the day drew on the crowds increased. Everyone was filled with wonder at this mysterious creature from the deep that was now just 50 metres from our shore. Emotions were high. There was a general feeling of excitement, but also sadness, and several people I spoke to were moved to tears.

Stranded sperm whale Edinburgh

Someone reported seeing other whales in the area first thing on Saturday morning. I kept my eye on the horizon through the hours of daylight, sure I would see any blows on this calm, frosty January day. None were seen. It is almost exclusively male sperm whales that strand in Scottish waters because the females stay in warmer seas, whilst the males migrate north to feed on Arctic and sub-Arctic squid. Sperm whales are sociable animals. This male may have been returning from a foraging trip north with his bachelor friends and post mortem can help us to understand this by studying stomach contents.

At 26 tonnes, it was a huge undertaking to move this whale from the beach to a suitable place to enable post mortem to learn what we could about cause of death. It was today that the post mortem was conducted by the expert SMASS team and I was fortunate enough to assist.  Detailed post mortem results will take some time, but initial findings were that the whale didn’t die due to any obvious human induced cause. He had evenly spaced tooth rake marks on the front of his head (with roughly the same distance between each as his own tooth spacing), suggesting various interactions with whales about his size. Maybe relatives or companions in his bachelor pod?

There were also handfuls of squid beaks in his stomach.

Squid beaks from stranded sperm whale

Did this whale, and possibly his pod, make a navigational error and end up in the North Sea by mistake? Did the other whales stay with this whale until he stranded and perished before making their onward journey, and do they still think of their young companion? These are challenging questions to answer. We have so much more to learn about these deep ocean giants that live in sociable family groups, care for one another and show cultural learning in their societies.

Thanks to Martin Scott for the initial report, to all those involved in the recovery, BDMLR, HM Coastguard, local Councils – especially the Scottish Marine Animal Strandings Scheme team – and to everyone who came out to see and learn about the whale.