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


2005-02-10 15:35:50

Porpoise call-out for CRRU team

The CRRU veterinary team received a call at approximately 4pm on Tuesday the 9th of February to a harbour porpoise that had live stranded at the Waters of Philforth, Fraserburgh (as an aside, the initial report from the person who found it was that of a dolphin stranding, which highlights the difficulty of identification for members of the public).

The CRRU veterinary team arrived on scene to be met by Kenneth McClennan and Andy Ireland of BDMLR Fraserburgh. Two SSPCA officers were with the animal, which was located in small stream/estuary approximately 2.5km form the road. The report was that the animal was initially found on sand, but had been carried/dragged into the water by the people who initially found it.

On examination, the porpoise was in moderate body condition, and visibly hypothermic (i.e. it was shivering) A strong wind and low ambient temperature added to the discomfort of the distressed porpoise. An air mattress was inflated to allow the porpoise to be moved from the water for a more detailed clinical examination, and to allow a wind break to be set up to protect both the animal and the team.

It was found to be an adult female, approx 1.7m long, with an estimated body weight of approximately 60kg. After palpation of the body wall and closer visual examination, the body condition was noted to be moderate to poor, and a degree of dehydration (possibly 5-7%) was found. Attempts to measure body temperature were unsuccessful. Mucous membranes were pink, and the capillary refill time, although difficult to assess, appeared to be about 1 second. Chest auscultation revealed normal heart sounds with the typical sinus arrhythmia associated with breath-holding. Lung sounds were apparently normal, but an SSPCA officer reported one episode of coughing, with some discharge, prior to the arrival of the other teams. Respiration rate remained 4-5 per min throughout, with normal depth. The only fresh lesions were mild abrasions to the rostrum and the tip of each tail fluke, concomitant with stranding. A chronic lesion was found on the caudal part of the peduncle, possible consistent with an old net entanglement injury, but this was not thought to have been a cause for the animal to strand. An attempt to pass a stomach tube was made, but before a tube could be passed a large amount of fluid was regurgitated, having the appearance of bloody gastric fluid, possible from gastric ulceration or from a large worm burden. A live worm was also found in this material. On the basis of this and the poor body condition and hypothermia, the difficult decision to euthanase the porpoise was made.

As a small cetacean with a large surface area to mass ratio, porpoises lose heat readily to their environment. The harbour porpoise tends to live life on the edge, in a metabolic sense, all year round, but this is much more of an issue during winter when food is scarce. As a general rule, any live-stranded harbour porpoise that is in less than optimal body condition unfortunately stands little chance of recovery after being refloated, as it will be too debilitated to hunt adequately to meet its energy requirements. Its is a sad fact for the teams involved in such an episode, but as always the welfare of the animal is of paramount importance. The initial post-mortem results for this porpoise indicated it was indeed underweight, with a very large intestinal and lung worm burden, which were the likely contributing factors to cause it to strand.

Cameron McPherson
CRRU Veterinary Surgeon


Thanks to BDMLR head office, the BDLMR Fraserburgh team, Montrose BDMLR for standing by in case we needed to set up rotations if a refloat was likely, the SSPCA for their invaluable support, medic Nick Duthie for mobilising everyone, James Barnett, and Bob Reid and Jason Barley from the Scottish Agricultural College, Inverness for reporting the stranding to us and for their great feedback.


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