The body of a Sowerby's beaked whale which died after becoming stranded in Wicklow Harbour was retrieved and sent for an necropsy to try and determine the cause of death.
Sowerby's beaked whales are reclusive creatures that tend to stay away from ships and are rarely sighted. They are not known to visit the coastline often and prefer deeper waters away from land.
Volunteers with the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group were alerted to the distressed whale on Saturday morning after being sent video footage of the stranded marine mammal by Eoin Byrne, who lives locally.
Marine Biologist Meadhbh Quinn and other Irish Whale and Dolphin Group volunteers were able to identify the whale as a Sowerby's beaked whale and carried out a visual health check. From the offset it appeared to be in ill health.
'It was in a bad way. We could see it had sustained numerous abrasions and cuts and was very disorientated. It kept swimming into the harbour walls. It was distressing and very hard to watch.
'Sowerby's beaked whales are an offshore diving species so this was probably the first time it had ever seen humans. Handling it would cause the whale even more distress. In the end we had to take the difficult decision to let nature take its course so as to try and minimise the whale's stress,' said Meadhbh
A large crowd of onlookers gathered at Wicklow Harbour to witness the stranded whale. They were encouraged to keep their distance to avoid causing any more stress to the animal, and to remember governmental social distance guidelines.
After the whale sadly died later that afternoon, its remains were retrieved and taken to the DAFM Regional Vet Laboratory in Backweston for a post-mortem, the results of which will be released later in the week. These efforts were supported by the National Parks and Wildlife Services (NPWS).
One train of thought is that the male whale suffered some sort of acoustic trauma, which led to him losing the ability to navigate and ending up getting lost along the east coast.
'We are not sure what the necropsy is going to find and it can be difficult to determine the cause of death. But, hopefully some of the samples will help give us some insight into how it lived and died. We know it was a male because of the position of the tooth midway along the lower jaw. They don't erupt in females. We aren't yet sure if it was fully grown as an average male is usually 5.5 metres and this whale was just shy of that,' added Meadhbh.
The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group also offer their thanks to the Irish Coast Guard, Wicklow Sailing Club, AlphaMarine Services, NPWS, Wicklow Harbour master Paul Ivory and all of the members of the public who assisted in respectfully retrieving the animal from the harbour.