Autopsy into death of killer whale washed up on beach

Allison Bray

Scientists will conduct an autopsy today to determine the cause of death of a killer whale that washed up on a beach near Co Waterford.

The female Orca whale washed up on a beach at Saleen, near Tramore in Co Waterford on Friday.

The whale measured five metres-long, or about 16 feet, which is considered small as Orcas can grow to nine metres-long, according to Deirdre Slevin of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IDWG).

The cause of the whale's death remains a mystery, although it appears she died of natural causes, Ms Slevin told the Sunday Independent.

A statement released earlier on the IDWG's website said: "The animal was in very fresh condition and all her teeth were very worn - this may have resulted in her death perhaps from malnutrition or infection."

Although it was the first time that a killer whale washed up on Saleen, a more common fin whale washed up on the same beach a few years ago.

It is the 15th time a killer whale was found stranded in Ireland. The most recent incident took place on October 4, 2010, off the coast of Co Mayo.

A team from the Galway Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT) travelled to the beach yesterday to transport the whale back to the college and carry out a post-mortem. It is hoped the skeleton will be preserved and put on display locally, according to the IDWG.

The stranding drew hundreds of local residents to the sight, prompting the local coast guard to erect a barrier around the whale to prevent it from being disturbed.

"It was a very sad sight," Ms Slevin said. "It's a really beautiful animal and we'd rather be promoting the live whales off our coast," she said.

The IDWG has recorded 32 strandings of nine whale species since January.

Orca whales are not commonly seen in Irish water. However, they made headlines here in 2001 when a pod was spotted swimming up the estuary from the Cork harbour.

There is a pod of 12 Orca whales that live off the coast of Scotland that have been occasionally spotted off the Irish coast.

But the whale that washed up in Co Waterford was not one of them because the pod members have all been identified by scars and other markings.

"A pod of four or five fin whales were seen off the Hook lighthouse (Co Wexford) last weekend," Ms Slevin said.