British Divers Marine Life Rescue
British Divers Marine Life Rescue (photo: Steve Marsh)
British Divers Marine Rescue


2007-07-28 15:55:17

BDMLR Comment re Northern Bottlenose Whale in River Orwell, Suffolk

When very large cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) enter river courses it presents the rescue agencies with major logistical problems.

It is not possible to 'grab' a free-swimming whale, as this will cause enormous stress to the animal and is also exceptionally dangerous to the rescuers as these animals are large and powerful.

Concerning the Northern Bottlenose Whale near Ipswich, the animal became stuck on a sandbar in the river between 8.00pm and 8.45pm on the evening of the 27th July. A whale rescue pontoon was on its way to the location but had not arrived at this point. However, and unusually, there was an extra Health & Safety concern. The whale had stranded directly in the flow of a sewage outflow and it was not possible for rescuers to enter the water at this point due to the contaminated water.

The whale refloated on the incoming tide, was then monitored overnight, stranded again at approx 2.00am and was euthanased on humane grounds, at 6.30am.

There is a great deal of data now available on the effects of stranding on these large species of whale. Much of this has been learnt from the 'Thames whale' (the same species) as well as previous and later strandings of large 'toothed whales' on the east coast of the UK. BDMLR has a large cetacean triage which has been developed directly from this new data and in consultation with a wide network of vastly experienced vets and pathologists. This animal was doomed from the time it entered the river system. It will not have fed since entering the North Sea as this species feeds upon deep ocean squid and the North Sea does not contain this food source. As cetaceans gain their water from their food, the animal would have been dehydrated and weakened as a result. These large species also deteriorate very quickly when not supported by water, causing massive and irreversible damage to the muscles which give off toxins which then, in turn, damage the kidneys and subsequently cause renal failure.

Simply pushing the animal into the North Sea would only lengthen the animal’s period of suffering and it extremely likely it would have restranded again. The whale was a young adult, maternally independent.

Rest assured, that BDMLR acts in the welfare of the animals it rescues at all times. Greatly experienced vets and rescuers liase on each incident and decide upon the best course of action for each animal and taking into account the often very challenging logistical circumstances which are often presented.

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