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


2014-12-06 13:14:18

Essex Pilot Whales Round Up

Over the last month, British Divers Marine Life Rescue teams were involved in monitoring a pod of around 40 pilot whales in the southern North Sea. The operation has now concluded up so we can now share what went on.

In late October, BDMLR received reports of a pod of pilot whales in the southern part of the North Sea. The whales were seen off the coast of Norfolk and Suffolk and even wandered over to the other side towards Holland.

However, in mid November, the pod was seen extremely close to the coast of Essex and the BDMLR Essex Rescue team started to monitor their actions more closely. On Sunday 16 November the whales were found in the mouth of the Thames estuary off Kent and even entered the mouth of the River Medway. BDMLR monitored the whales and called in as many of its rescue pontoons as possible. Being highly gregarious, pilot whales will often follow a sick or injured whales onto the shore and BDMLR has previously dealt with several mass strandings of pilot whales for this reason. Therefore, it was felt we should have all the available rescue equipment on hand as soon as possible.

As darkness fell the whales were still afloat, and extra pontoons were on their way from Cornwall, Devon, Scotland and Lincolnshire along with another of BDMLR’s rescue boats. Volunteers drove huge distances to relay the kit to the south east.

The next day the whales moved to the north side of the estuary around Brightlingsea, Essex. Here they were to stay for several days off Colne Point. The BDMLR rescue equipment was moved to the area and BDMLR area coordinators Emma Webb and Mark Gregory accompanied the Essex Police launch to monitor the animals. The news media got involved at this stage, but for BDMLR, without the animals actually stranding, it was still a wait and watch operation.

At certain points the whales got extremely close to the coast and had to be herded back out to deeper water with a hope of stopping them stranding.

Early on the morning of 20th November, the pod had moved higher up the estuary and it is thought that local boating activity may have contributed to their movement.  As a Spring tide was due in a couple of days and would have resulted ion very shallow low tides, concern was high so as the whales grouped together, a flotilla of small vessels led by the marine police rigid inflatable and directed by BDMLR coordinators gently herded the pod out of the estuary, heading them away from potential stranding points.  Since this successful operation, the whales have not been reported to be close to any coastline on eother side of the North Sea.

Later that day a very thin young female pilot whale was found dead at Goldhanger, on the northern coast of the estuary opposite where the pod had been earlier in the day. The young dead whale was extremely malnourished and was taken for a necropsy to try and find out why it died. Preliminary results have been released by CSIP and can be found on the November 21st posting on its Facebook page here.

It is thought that the young whale had died early that morning before the pod was successfully herded out of danger under the direction of BDMLR.  Having such a poorly animal within the pod would possibly explain why the group of whales had been hugging the shore for so long, to shelter it from the ravages of the deeper water.

Thanks are due to the many people and organisations involved, especially the Essex Marine Police, Brightlingsea Harbour Master and volunteers, BDMLR volunteers and members of the local community.


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