UPDATE: Lynmouth whale may have been beached alive

Joseph Bulmer

Marine experts announce findings on stricken ‘baby’ whale

A RARE giant whale washed up on a North Devon beach could have been stranded alive, experts have said.

The 59ft fin whale, discovered by a holidaymaker at Lynmouth on Tuesday morning, was well preserved, indicating that the whale had only been dead for perhaps a day or so, said Paul Jepson, wildlife vet at the Zoological Society of London.

Dr Jepson, who carried out an autopsy with fellow Society vet James Barnett and three others on Tuesday night, said initial findings point to the young whale dying of starvation and possible infection.

The juvenile female was one-to-three years old and measured 17.9 metres. Adult finn whales grow to average of 20-26 metres.

The whales feed on small shrimps, krill and crustaceans.

Dr Jepson said: “The finn whale normally occupies the open oceans and should not have been this close to the shore.

“With the aid of a winch on a Land Rover and ropes we were able to remove blubber and take samples. The blubber was very thin. It had clearly not fed for some time and was in an emaciated condition, with muscle wastage, as well as a possible fairly recent infection in the abdomen.

“We are doing more tests, which will take two to four weeks.”

Dr Jepson said the examination had been limited by time and by access and while they had been unable to examine the whole of the body, they would now go back and examine photographs taken.

Experts found no evidence of injury other than wounds and abrasions around the head and fins but said this was “normal” due to the rocky nature of the North Devon coastline.

The thin blubber layer could be another reason the body was so well preserved as it allowed the sea to keep it cool, added Dr Jepson.

Whale strandings were something which happened historically and boats and sonar had sometimes been blamed, he said.

But it was interesting that increased strandings could correlate with the population of whales in the open sea.

Dr Jepson said that a lot of the large whales had been hunted and their populations had decreased, but some species, notably the humpback, were now seeing an upturn in strandings and this was being linked to an increase in population, an indication that conservation measures were having an impact.

“It is sad to see the individual cases, but if we see more strandings it could indicate the population is increasing,” he said.

North Devon Council is responsible for removing and disposing of the carcass.

Diana Hill, the council’s head of property and technical services, added: “We are currently in consultation with various agencies on how best to remove the whale.

“We are proposing to tow the carcass off the beach and to land it at a secure location, where it will be put on a low-loader vehicle and disposed of according to the necessary licensed regulations.”

At lunchtime today (Thursday) the council said the removal process would start within the next 24 hours, subject to weather conditions.

In the meantime, it is asking the public to stay away from the immediate area.

Keep checking the Gazette website for further updates.