Wicklow

| 17°C Dublin

Nature Trail

The sea cast up the remains of a rare whale

Close

A rare view of an adult Sowerby’s Beaked Whale, a deep water species that is seldom seen, about to jump clear of the water.

A rare view of an adult Sowerby’s Beaked Whale, a deep water species that is seldom seen, about to jump clear of the water.

A rare view of an adult Sowerby’s Beaked Whale, a deep water species that is seldom seen, about to jump clear of the water.

A blubbery thing washed up dead on my local shore. It was about the size and shape of a large dolphin and it had a beak like a dolphin so, superficially, it could be passed over as just another dolphin. However, on closer inspection there was more to it than that.

The remains were very fresh. They measured 2.4m long and a glance at the genital area showed that the animal was a male. Three distinctive features evidenced that it was not a dolphin: it had no teeth or else its teeth had not erupted, it had a pair of converging grooves under its throat, and it didn’t have a notch in the tail fluke. The remains were clearly those of a beaked whale and its small size could be explained by the fact that it was a juvenile.

Little is known about beaked whales in Irish waters for two reasons: they appear to be relatively rare and they live far offshore in deep water on the edge of the continental shelf. They hunt along the shelf diving to great depths in pursuit of squid and deep water species of fish. They have been recorded diving to 1,500m and staying down for 30 minutes.

‘Cetacean’ is the catch-all term used for blubbery creatures like whales, dolphins and porpoises. Twenty six species of cetacean have been recorded in Irish waters. Some are residents, some are vagrants, more are seasonal passage migrants moving to and from distant polar feeding grounds and sub-tropical birthing areas.

This is Wicklow Newsletter

The local stories that matter in the Garden County, delivered directly to your inbox every week

This field is required

Of the 26 cetacean species recorded in Irish waters, five are beaked whales: Cuvier’s, Gervais, Sowerby’s, True’s and Blainville’s.

Stephanie Levesque, Strandings Officer and researcher with the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) reckoned that the juvenile male was probably a Sowerby’s Beaked Whale and photographs circulated to international experts confirmed her initial identification.

Considering the freshness of the remains, the rarity of the species, the young age of the individual involved, and its great distance from its natural habitat, a post mortem was carried out on the shore by Mags Daly of the IWDG Necropsy Scheme and Margaret Wilson, Department of Agriculture Regional Veterinary Laboratory. The results are awaited with interest as they may answer some of the many unanswered questions about these unusual creatures cast up by the sea from the deep.

The post-mortem results may very well reveal why the juvenile died but we will probably never know why the youngster was so far from its deep water home range along the edge of the continental shelf well offshore of Ireland’s western seaboard. 


Privacy