Friday, 29 January 2016

Fifth dead whale found on English beach

Experts investigate possible causes of worst stranding on the English coast since records began in 1913, while people flock to sites to take photos

Josh Halliday, north of England correspondent, and Patrick Barkham

Monday 25 January 2016 19.03 GMTLast modified on Tuesday 26 January 201611.28 GMT

A fifth dead whale has been found washed up on the Lincolnshire coast, several miles from four other members of the same pod, marking the worst sperm whale stranding off the English coast since records began in 1913.

The fifth whale was discovered by a member of the public on Monday afternoon on a former weapons range in Lincolnshire where the second world war Dambusters squadron practised bombing runs.
Onlookers have been told to stay away from the land, which was sold by the Ministry of Defence six years ago, and it remains inaccessible to scientists amid warnings that it may be strewn with unexploded bombs.

The male sperm whale was found five miles down the coast from where three others were found in Skegness at the weekend and across the shallow waters of the Wash from where another whale was found on Hunstanton beach in Norfolk.

Scientists believe that the whales, all members of the same pod, were hungry and dehydrated but alive when they were stranded in shallow waters during their search for food. Sperm whales are deep sea creatures and can easily become disoriented if they get into shallow water.

One of the Skegness whale bodies “exploded” when pathologists cut it open, and Rob Deaville, project manager at the UK Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme, a Defra-funded group that investigates whale deaths, said the quickly decomposing state of the carcasses made it “much harder to gain any pathologically useful information”.

According to Deaville, their investigations found little in the whales’ intestines apart from “some squid beaks and some little fragments of plastic”. He said this suggested the whales died when the weight of their own bodies caused their internal organs to collapse.

 “This is an unusual event and the question hanging is why they were in the North Sea in the first place,” said Deaville. With a lack of food and shallow, disorientating waters for a deep sea animal, “they were always up against it unless they could find their way out through the big open end between Norway and Scotland.”

Thousands of people have flocked to the tourist resort of Skegness to see the whales since Sunday, with onlookers taking selfies in front of the huge carcasses as marine biologists cut away chunks of flesh and bone.

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