Published: 09/12/2016 16:07 - Updated: 09/12/2016 16:11

Mystery surrounds deaths of whales on Caithness coastline

The Pygmy sperm whale which washed onto the shoreline at Thurso East.
The Pygmy sperm whale which washed onto the shoreline at Thurso East.

MYSTERY surrounds what caused two different rare species of whale to wash up along the north Caithness coastline last week.

A Sowerby’s beaked whale was found dead on Dunnet Beach before a pygmy sperm whale perished at Thurso East.

Beaked whales are known to have stranded before on the west coast but Caithness Sea Watching’s former regional co-ordinator Colin Bird said the pygmy sperm whale is particularly rare, with only six having washed up before in Scotland.

Experts are investigating what could have happened and post-mortem examinations have been carried out on the carcasses by the Scottish Marine Stranding Scheme (SMASS).

With six dead seals also found on Thurso Beach last week, SMASS is appealing for people to keep their eyes out for any more marine animals in trouble.

With lots of activity going in the Pentland Firth, it is keen to monitor the situation.

The Sowerby's beaked whale which was found dead on Dunnet beach.
The Sowerby's beaked whale which was found dead on Dunnet beach.

Andrew Brownlow, who runs SMASS, said: “There’s not a huge amount to report from the post-mortem examinations but not finding things is good. We can rule out quite a lot of things. It looks like both of them stranded alive rather than being washed up dead. That would indicate there’s something which has put them there. That can be a huge range of things – the animals could be sick, they could simply have got lost and washed up there, it could be bad weather, tides, or they could have a disease.

“It’s hard to specify. We did find they were relatively healthy animals. They had not had food recently but were in good condition.

“There are no obvious forms of trauma so we can rule out is that they were hit by a boat or anything moving. We are still investigating because it is a really unusual find.”

If anyone spots a live stranding contact the British Divers Marine Life Rescue or the SSPCA.

Anyone who spots a dead cetacean or seal along the coastline is asked to contact the SMASS through its Facebook page, by emailing strandings@sruc.ac.uk or at strandings.org

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