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


2009-08-02 13:24:32

Double stranding of Northern Bottlenose Whales - Cromarty, Highlands

Stranded Bottlenose whale (photo: Charlie Phillips)I received a call from Charlie Philips at around midday on Sunday 2nd August to say that he had heard that a Minke Whale had been seen in the Cromarty Harbour. The initial report had indicated that it was a Minke Whale although it turned out there were three Northern Bottlenose Whales in the Cromarty area. The Eco-ventures boat had seen the largest of the three mammals moving at speed out of the harbour area after managing to free itself and swim out towards the Souters. The mammal was not seen again in the area. Although, the other two had beached and stranded on the shores just outside Cromarty village.

I loaded up the car and called the Out of Hours Coordinator Mark Gregory to report what we had been informed of and Mark sent out a text to Medic’s for assistance. Upon arrival I found Jill McGregor from the SSPCA and 2 members of the coastguard in attendance with the Police.

The two Whales were laying stranded on the beach in very shallow water. The tide had started to go out and a crowd had gathered on the roadside near to where the Whales were stranded. Upon approaching the SSPCA Officer Jill McGregor I saw Charlie Philips from WDCS and also a MMM with BDMLR. Charlie was taking photos of the Whales and discussing their condition with the SSPCA Officer.

I ascertained if the vet had been called and asked if anyone had assessed the condition of both the Whales. Bob Reid had been consulted and said he would come out to assess them. I called James Barnett the BDMLR vet and Trevor Weeks to inform them of what the situation was. There were 2 Northern Bottlenose Whales young adults about 3 years old. They were about 18 feet in length and probably about 3-4 tonnes in weight. They had mites on the body and 1 which seemed to be the more active had superficial injuries to the eye. They both had injuries to the undersides of the body probably caused by the rocks that lay underneath them rubbing on the undersides of the body.

One of the whales lay fairly motionless in the shallow water and remained upright although its breathing became rapid and it gave short, sharp bursts of air as it lay on the shore. This is the one that subsequently died. The other one which we thought to be a female although it looks possible now could have also been a young male was fairly active with a lot of tail thrashing and moving in circles in the shallows as if to try and move the body round to head back out to sea.

I spoke to James Barnett at length and he advised as the whales had been on the beach in the shallow water for some time possibly 2 hours at this point then under the recent changes in the triage for Sperm, Beaked & Bottlenose whales, to put these mammals to sleep would be the best option, as they will have started to receive muscle damage and internal damage from being out of water for over an hour.

As the word seemed to have spread there were more people gathering and a few coming onto the beach to get a closer look so I asked the coastguard to cordon off the area and with the help of the police asked the public to remain safely away. Although a helicopter did much to my annoyance come down twice to get a look at the whales. This seemed to cause stress to the whales as they lay on the shore. Natalie, Jill and I were assisted by 2 members of the public to carry water in buckets to try and keep these 2 whales wet and keep the blowholes covered whilst keeping them wet. I had called Bob Reid and he offered to come out with Andrew Brownlow from the SAC to put the mammals to sleep using Euthatal. Whilst we waited for Bob and Andrew one of the whales fell onto its side and the blowhole became submerged underwater for a time.

Upon Bob and Andrew’s arrival it was agreed for safety reasons for Andrew to be assisted by a rope tied to him, so he could administer the drugs safely as the animals had moved slightly in the tide into slightly deeper water. Also, as one of whales was quite active it was thought that if it thrashed about Andrew’s safety would be compromised. Jill assisted Bob and Andrew who gave both whales 200mls of Euthatal over a period of time as the first dose did not seem to have much effect. One of whales appeared to go into a state of unconsciousness although this did not seem to last.

The rising tide seemed to have an effect on the whale that had seemed to be most active as it started to thrash around wildly and try to turn itself around to face heading out to sea. It became apparent that the drugs had not much effect and as the whale turned its body from on its side to an upright position the eye was bleeding as was the undersides of the whale due to all the thrashing around. We all watched this amazing event and suddenly the whale with the tide rising seemed to be heading out to sea. Off it went right over to the other side of the bay where over the next few hours we could see the blowhole spurts in the distance.

The other whale remained fairly motionless in the water although with the rising tide seemed to move to the right a little. Its breathing rate slowed down and it seemed to be passing away. Over the next wee while Natalie and I spoke to the public to let them know what was happening as they were all very concerned about the whales and it is always good to let people know so they understand. At about 9pm with light fading it was decided to call it a day as the other whale was circling the bay and Charlie offered to meet Jill at first light to see if the other whale had restranded. The coastguard said they would also keep an eye over the dead whale that remained until the body could be collected the following morning.

Charlie and Jill kept a watchful eye on the area the following day for anymore sightings of the 2 whales that remained alive although neither has been seen since. It is hoped the damage that the one sustained whilst on the beach is minimal and both animals remain alive for some years to come.

Arrangements were made to carry the carcass of the dead whale to the SAC for Bob Reid and his team to carry out a Post Mortem Examination. Thanks to the Coastguard, Police and Jill McGregor from the SSPCA and to Bob Reid and Dr Andrew Brownlow from the SAC for all their help with this difficult rescue. Also, a huge thank you to Charlie Philips for all his efforts and photos, and thanks to my friend for assisting in our rescue efforts, by fetching and carrying equipment and being supportive. Also to Laura at Spey Bay, Mark Gregory, James Barnett and Trevor Weeks for their efforts in supplying me with the information needed.

It is hoped much can be learned from this stranding and perhaps we can begin to understand why these beautiful animals strand on our shores.

Linda Nicholson
Co-ordinator, Inverness