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


2011-07-28 12:53:48

BDMLR medics save dozens of whales in Scottish stranding

Update: 28 July

Stranded whales (Photo: Charlie Phillips)After a major rescue operation on Friday that carried on into the early hours of Saturday, BDMLR medics, supporters, conservationists and government officials around the country and worldwide have been commenting on what was an incredible achievement by the team.

There is no doubt at all that if BDMLR had not been on hand, with assistance on site by the Royal Navy, Coastguard, SSPCA, Police, divers and members of the public, then the 44 whales they successfully saved would have perished. This is a really high proportion of the pod that was estimated at being between 60 and 70, so it was no mean feat to rescue so many.

On Saturday, a total of 16 bodies of those had died were recovered and pathologist teams from the Scottish Agricultural college, Zoological Society of London and Wales were able to perform post mortems on these. Tissue samples are still being tested but preliminary results show that none of these animals would have survived refloating.Final results are not yet available.

The animals that the teams were able to assist on the night from the large group that stranded, and those that they were able to keep in the water of the deeper channel in the estuary, are now thought to have returned to deeper waters out at sea.

We're all so proud of you and the valiant efforts you went to in dangerous and difficult circumstances. Thank you.

Update: 23 July, 10:00

In a major rescue of stranded whales in the Kyle of Durnes in the north west of Scotland, up to 44 whales have been returned to open sea and up to 25 are thought to have died, 15 on a sandbank last night. During Friday evening, British Divers Marine Life Rescue medics, Coastguard and the Navy managed to rotate whales that were upside down to prevent them from drowning when the tide came in. Medics from as far as Newcastle responded and 9 sets of pontoons were delivered to site overnight, but unused as the estuary flooded too quickly. They remain on site though in case they are needed over the weekend and to assist with the post mortems.

A total of eleven bodies have been recovered today, including three whales that were still alive this morning but were euthanased by vets as their condition was not suitable for refloating.

The post mortems will try and determine both the cause of the stranding and the deaths of the whales will be carried out by pathologists from the SAC and ZSL, assisted by BDMLR medics. Teams from BDMLR have searched the coast, lochs and headlands for evidence of the other whales that, it is hoped, have returned to open water.

Stranded Pilot whale (Photo: Charlie Phillips)Update: 20.15

From the original group of whales that entered the Kyle of Durness earlier today, thirty have now stranded live on a sandbank, with two having died. The original four animals that stranded earlier are still being cared for by trained medics and around twenty animals are still in the water.

British Divers Marine Life Rescue Operations Manager Stephen Marsh says "With the water still dropping, things aren't looking good for this pod but we're still hopeful that we'll be able to refloat those that will have been out of the water for the shortest time.  Being an estuary, the tides don't conform to the usual rise and falls found on the coast. The animals themselves are not in a good condition and there are some very young whales in the beached group.  Some of them have actually stranded upside down and are breathing in sand, so our priorities are to get these upright so that we can try to stabilise their condition."

The BDMLR medics, along with support from SSPCA, Navy and Coastguard personnel will be working through the night to save as many as they can. "We have mobilised our medics from right across Scotland and more will be arriving, with rescue equipment, over the next few hours."

Stranded Pilot whales (Photo: Jamie Dyer)Update: 19.30

Thirty whales have now stranded on a sandbank in the estuary, with two confirmed dead.

Twenty-one remain in the water and the original four animals that stranded, a female with calf plus two more adults, continue to receive first aid from BDMLR medics, while other medics attend to the others.

Pilot whales first aid (Photo: Charlie Phillips)The charity British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) were alerted earlier today by the Coastguard to a pod of pilot whales in danger of stranding in Kyle of Durness, an estuary in the far North East of Scotland. The pod of between 55 and 70 whales were in two smaller groups, with one group in danger of stranding in shallows and another in a slightly deeper channel. Three whales, including a calf, had already stranded as the water in the estuary dropped.

BDMLR, members of the Navy's bomb disposal unit and the Coastguard have been able to stop the group of 15-20 pilot whales that were in immediate danger of stranding form doing so by herding them back into a deeper channel where they have rejoined the larger group of 40-50 whales. Concern is growing though that as the estuary empties, this larger group may strand, but for the time being their situation is better while they are in the water. The three whales that had stranded are being given first aid by BDMLR medics, SSPCA and Andrew Brownlow, an SAC vet, is in attendance.

BDMLR Operations Manager Stephen Marsh says "This is a major operation as it always can be with this species. Pilot whales are gregarious, family-orientated animals and will follow a member of their pod that may be in distress or ill. Kyle of Durness is not a good place for them to be as it practically empties on the outgoing tide and is full of sandbanks, potential stranding sites for any whale.  We're really thankful that the Navy and Coastguard have been on hand to work under our guidance until our team arrived at the scene and they continue to be a major asset in this operation".

BDMLR teams from across Scotland are on the way to Kyle of Durness with rescue equipment in readiness for what may be a long rescue operation through the night and into tomorrow.

» Watch the video on the BBC website

Stephen Marsh
BDMLR Operations Manager