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Humpback whale underwater

Climate giants – how whales can help save the world

We know that whales, dolphins and porpoises are amazing beings with complex social and family...
Black Sea common dolphins © Elena Gladilina

The dolphin and porpoise casualties of the war in Ukraine

Rare, threatened subspecies of dolphins and porpoises live in the Black Sea along Ukraine's coast....
WDC's Ed Fox, Chris Butler-Stroud and Carla Boreham take a message from the ocean to parliament

Taking a message from the ocean to parliament

It's a sad fact that whales and dolphins don't vote in human elections, but I...
Minke whale © Ursula Tscherter - ORES

The whale trappers are back with their cruel experiment

Anyone walking past my window might have heard my groan of disbelief at the news...
Boto © Fernando Trujillo

Meet the legendary pink river dolphins

Botos don't look or live like other dolphins. Flamingo-pink all over with super-skinny snouts and...
Tokitae in captivity

Talking to TUI – will they stop supporting whale and dolphin captivity?

Last Thursday I travelled to Berlin for a long-anticipated meeting with TUI senior executives. I...

Earth Day Q&A with Waipapa Bay Wines’ marketing director, Fran Draper

We've been partnered with Waipapa Bay Wines since 2019 so for this year's Earth Day,...
Orcas at the seabed

The secrets of orca beach life

Rubbing on smooth pebbles is a generations-old cultural tradition for a particular group of orcas...

A sad day on the beach

It was with some trepidation that I offered my help to Nick Davison from SMASS (Scottish Marine Animal Strandings Scheme) on the morning of Monday 8th September when he called to ask for some assistance from WDC in a Minke whale post mortem at Whitehills (around 20 miles along the coast from my usual place of work, The Scottish Dolphin Centre at Spey Bay).

Most people would be interested in finding out what caused one of our beautiful ocean giants to strand and die and to find out if it was a natural death or perhaps due to some human influence. I was curious to attend having never been to a post mortem before and I was happy to offer help wherever needed, but my curiosity was also tinged with sadness for the beautiful, 8.3m, female Minke and the tragic end that she met.

Upon arrival we could see wounds on her underside, suggesting that she had live stranded at some point, causing damage while struggling to get back in the water.

Nick got to work straight away and addressed a protruding mass in her throat, which revealed itself as a large abscess. This is speculated to have been the reason why our Minke ended up on the beach rather than out in the open sea where she belongs. I am no scientist or veterinarian, however I know that infection on that scale is a very bad thing. We are still awaiting confirmation on the results of the samples taken from the necropsy, but the cause of her death seems highly likely to have been due to the abscess which was so prominent in the throat area.

The hardest part of the day came when we discovered that she was pregnant, which hit all of us on the beach very hard. It was entirely unexpected and made what was already a tragic event, doubly tragic as this was not just the loss of one life but two.

I left at 5:30pm, after almost four hours on the beach feeling totally exhausted and drained, both mentally and physically. It’s good news to be almost certain that this was not a loss of a Minke due to human contribution, but at the same time it was a very sad way to spend an afternoon and I have to give credit to Nick from SMASS who frequently attends strandings all over Scotland, as his job and his goal is to find out as much as possible about stranded cetaceans with the hopes of contributing towards protecting and helping them in any way that we can.

On a side note, I was delighted by a brief, but definite appearance of a juvenile Minke whale leaping and breaching, around 1.5km out from Spey Bay on Sunday (14th September). This is our first Minke sighting from The Scottish Dolphin Centre in two years. This whale looked in great shape and high spirits as he repeatedly lunged from the water, making splashes so big you couldn’t miss them from the shore. It was almost as if he was celebrating just being alive and free!

About George Berry

George is a member of WDC's Communications team and website coordinator.