Over 50 pilot whales have died after mass stranding on a Western Isles beach. The British Divers Marine Life Rescue charity (BDMLR) said the animals washed up on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. Only 15 of the approximately 55 beached whales were still alive when rescue teams arrived.
The charity was alerted at around 7 am this morning to reports of multiple whales stranding on the coast of Traigh Mhor in North Tolsta. Marine mammal medics were immediately sent to the scene, and more floatation pontoons were flown in by helicopter from different regions across England and Scotland via Civil Air Support. The Stornoway Coastguard, Shawbost and Stornoway fire and rescue services, police, and the Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme joined the BDMLR team.
Local people, members of the public, and volunteers from across the country were able to help save some of the survivors. BDMLR has thanked them for their “unwavering dedication and compassion.”
BDMLR staff attempted to refloat two more active whales low down in the water on the outgoing tide. They failed to refloat one of the whales but could refloat another successfully. Unfortunately, the refloated whale was re-stranded further down the beach and later died, as did three others. This left 12 whales still alive – eight adults and four calves – and a decision was made to euthanize them on welfare grounds.
It is not yet known what led to the stranding of the whales. However, a pod of this species of whales tends to follow the lead of a single female when they get into difficulty, which may have been what happened in this case.
Pilot whales, which are closely related to dolphins, are a very distinctive-looking species with long fins. They often bow ride, tail slap, and spy hop – raising their head vertically out of the water – although they are also commonly seen resting motionless at the surface of the sea, which is known as ‘logging.’
They have evolved not to be able to support their weight on land and can crush themselves to death if they are stranded. In this case, several whales were surrounded by dead pod members, which may have added to their distress. Post mortems will be carried out to establish the cause of death. BDMLR has appealed for anyone who witnessed the stranding to contact them so that they can pass on any information they have. Further details can be found here.