Monday, 7 November 2016

A Whale of a Problem

The nation’s eyes turned to Holkham this October thanks to the arrival of a dead Fin Whale.  Washing up on Holkham beach on 20th October it made quite the impression. The following day staff from the Cetacean Stranding Investigation Programme (CSIP) arrived and performed a thorough investigation of the whale.

Fin Whales are an endangered species and not usually seen in the North Sea preferring the deep water of the Atlantic. Occasionally however they do appear on the British coast, in fact this is the fourth Fin Whale stranding CSIP had attended this year. Fin Whales are the second largest mammal on earth and also the fastest swimmers (up to 15mph!). They are a baleen whale meaning they are essentially filter feeders straining food through the hairy plates on its upper jaw. Fin Whales are noticeably unique thanks to the lower right jaw being bright white and the lower left jaw being black. This is thought to be used to frighten its prey into dense groups making them easier to catch. The whale that washed up at Holkham was only 13m long making it a juvenile. They can grow up to 26m as an adult!

CSIP staff taking samples from the internal organs.

After a day of slicing the CSIPs staff carefully removed samples from the internal organs, bone, baleen plates and eye ball as well as a noticeable ‘hump’ just above the tail stock. The post mortem indicated that the hump had a spinal abnormally caused by a boat strike. This injury limited its ability to swim impeding its ability to dive and feed leading to ill heath resulting in a parasite infestation and eventual starvation.

The eye being removed.

This tragic turn of events was a sad end to such a rare and striking whale. Especially as the Fin Whale population has declined dramatically due to whaling, pollution and habitat destruction. This individual will be sorely missed as the population continues to fight for survival.

The autopsy lasted till dusk.