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Lost Sowerby’s beaked whale suffered slow and painful death

Sowerby' beaked whale found on Scottish beach

A female Sowerbys beaked whale found dead on a beach at Gullane, on the outskirts of Edinburgh must have suffered a painful and slow death say experts after a post mortem confirmed rope embedded deep into her skin and blubber, and severe dorsal fluke damage.

The lost whale was first reported on Muirfield Beach on Saturday, and underwent a post mortem by the Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme at the National Museums collection centre on Monday. She was thin, and it is unclear if the rope, likely from fishing gear, came from Scottish waters.

Beaked whales are deep water species normally found off the north and west coasts of Scotland, not in the North Sea.

This incident comes on top of at least two other entanglement cases in Scotland in the last couple of weeks, including a pregnant minke whale that stranded on Orkney with fishing net in her baleen, and a humpback whale that had to be cut free from fishing gear by a BDMLR team, also off the coast of Orkney.

‘This is a horrible incident and the post mortem revealed debilitating injuries that would have been very painful for months’, said Sarah Dolman from marine charity Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC), who was helping with the beaked whale post mortem. ‘The whale suffered terribly and this clearly demonstrates that the Scottish and UK governments need to do much more to understand the extent of entanglements in fishing gear and importantly, to prevent them.

‘We have been working with the Scottish Creel Fishing Federation and others to understand the extent of entanglements in Scottish waters, and what we need now is action to stop these unnecessary deaths in all fishing gears. The governments need to put laws and measures in place to require dedicated bycatch monitoring, prevention and mitigation, as well as to prevent discarding of unwanted fishing gear and retrieval of old gear from the sea, to prevent whales such as this adult female from suffering.’

When a whale or dolphin swims into a net, rope or fishing line, they can quickly become entangled. Like humans, they breathe air, and so a race-against-time begins. If they can’t surface quickly enough, they suffocate. In their desperation to escape, some tear muscles, break teeth, and sheer off fins.  Some who break free carry pieces of gear wrapped around their heads, flippers, bodies or tails; swimming for months with the gear entrapping them and sometimes sawing into their flesh and even bones until they die from resulting infections or starvation.

Whales and dolphins continue to die in fishing gear. They need your help. Save them by getting involved today.


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