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Saturday, 16 July 2016

A Whale of a Time

Sperm Whale at Perranporth
It felt like a pilgrimage. Hundreds of people were walking northwards from Perranporth along the shining pink road towards the beached whale.

We heard on the Sunday news that a female Sperm Whale was found beached near Perranporth and decided we just had to take the opportunity to see it in the flesh. We had underestimated how far from the nearest car park it was. Along with many others we walked 50 minutes to see the whale and another 50 minutes back to the car. The beach was covered in a pink tide by millions of Moon Jellyfish and the odd Blue Jellyfish. We judged we would have plenty of time to get there and back as the tide was ebbing from full. People of all ages were striding out with dogs and children. People who would normally just manage to walk a couple of yards from their parked car to empty the dog and get an ice-cream were making the journey.
The pink jellyfish path

Being two days after it had beached, the whale had been post mortemed on the beach with obvious incisions and jaw removed. The carcass was beginning to darken and bloat and the exposed entrails were bubbling and fizzing with the release of decomposition gasses.  
When the pilgrims arrived there were hushed conversations “Such a pity it had to die for us to see it.”, “They say some lads were trying to get souvenir teeth”, (in fact the autopsy team had removed the lower jaw with teeth to age the whale), “Well worth the walk to see it.”, “I’ve never seen anything like this before.”

On our return there was still a continual stream of people walking northwards to pay homage.

Post-mortem team
The following day I has a call about another stranding. This time, a female juvenile Minke Whale much closer to home at Bude. I was unable to get to it until the evening due to tides and commitments. Arriving at 9pm, there was a team of people from the Marine Srandings Network, British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) and of course James the volunteer veterinary who was beginning the post mortem.

James was assisted by both divers, one handling and wrapping the samples, the other listing what these were – Kidney, Liver, Ovaries, Eyes, Heart, Stomach contents (Krill) with Niki the Strandings officer taking record photographs. Duncan was the local Strandings callout with us other three local yokels provided guidance and porterage to get them, the samples and equipment back up the cliff in the dark at 10:30pm.

What a difference in the two experiences – Perranporth, a long walk along a sandy beach to see a Sperm Whale – 11 metres long with a long thin toothed jaw for feeding on octopus and small fish; Bude a stiff climb to a rocky beach to find a Minke Whale – 7 metres long with a large jaw with baleen filters to eat Krill and small fish.

Minke Whale at Bude
Both were judged to have been live strandings. The Sperm had died as her organs collapsed without the support that the sea gives to it; the Minke probably driven ashore by perhaps Dolphins had, judging by pre mortem lacerations and bruises, injured herself fatally whilst trying to squirm back to the sea.

They say things happen in threes – let’s hope this old adage is wrong. Nice as it is to experience the huge marine mammals at close range, I would rather there were no more such strandings.

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