Saturday 19 October 2019

Tests to see what killed whale

The beached sperm whale at Streedagh beach. Pic: Rosalie Vogt courtesy Cllr Marie Casserly
The beached sperm whale at Streedagh beach. Pic: Rosalie Vogt courtesy Cllr Marie Casserly

Paul Deering

It could be a number of weeks before the cause of death of a beached female sperm whale which washed ashore at Streedagh beech on Wednesday morning last is known.

The whale was buried by staff from the County Council on Thursday after samples were taken away for analysis by the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group. The whale was 10.4 metres in length and is the third sperm whale to have been washed up along the west coast in the recent past which has raised concerns.

The IWDG has ruled out plastic ingestion as a cause of death and also naval war manoeuvres off Scotland. The IWDG has taken tissue samples from the carcass for analysis.

The whale was one of three which have been washed up on the western coastline in the last week from Galway to Donegal.

A team from the IWDG consisting of Seán O’Callaghan, Mags Daly and Dr Simon Berrow travelled to Streedagh on Thursday to investigate the stranding and collect samples.

The county council was able to provide diggers on site to assist in examining the whale carcass.

There were no obvious signs of ship collision, entanglement nor was the whale emaciated.

Examination of the main stomach found no plastic debris, indeed there were no food remains either, apart from a small number of squid eye lenses and no evidence of recent feeding with intestines clean. Some minor parasite burden was noted.

Samples were taken for genetics and toxicology. Moira Slingerman from the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT) assisted in the examination and took blubber and liver samples to explore legacy and emergent persistent pollutants that may have accumulated in the whale.

The IWDG said that as is so often the case with strandings, they know more about what didn’t kill the whale, than what did.

“We will continue to explore issues around acoustic trauma and bacterial infection. we are in contact with colleagues in Scotland to see if they are also experiencing higher than usual sperm whale strandings as they examined a female stranded on Uist in quite an advanced state of decomposition on Thursday.

“NATOs annual Joint Warrior exercise is currently underway from 30 March to 11 April, west of the Hebrides. A total 35 warships, 5 submarines and 59 aircraft and helicopters from 13 countries are scheduled to take part in this year’s edition of the exercise.

“However these whales have been dead for 1-2 weeks so this can’t explain these strandings unless some active equipment was tested offshore prior to the start of this exercise,” said the spokesperson.

The IWDG thanked the council for its assistance in accessing and examining of the carcass.

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