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Spermwhale washes up on welsh beach in poor nutritional condition

A SPERM whale found washed up on a beach in north Wales last week was “in a markedly poor nutritional condition”, initial investigations have found.

The 10.8-metre adult female sperm whale was found at Porth Neigwl on the Llyn Peninsula, and is only the second stranded sperm whale recorded in Wales in the last century. It was the “thinnest sperm whale” Rob Deaville, project manager for the UK Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme (CSIP) had ever worked on.

Scientists who conducted an initial post mortem on the whale had been concerned about what appeared to be a mass on its side, but what they could see was actually the animal’s ribs protruding because it was so malnourished. Further analysis of the whale will now be conducted.

Mr Deaville told of his interim findings: “Considered to be consistent with marked nutritional loss and live stranding of a very out of habitat individual. No evidence of recent feeding. Small numbers of squid beaks in the stomachs. No significant evidence of plastic or debris ingestion, just a few fragmentary pieces found.

“Broader question of why this female ended up here. It’s only the second sperm whale recorded in Wales in the last century and the fourth female in the UK over the same period. Given all of these atypical events occurred over the last decade, is this more evidence of a world changing around us?”

When the whale was discovered on Monday, May 8, at 8am, a high tide prevented rescuers reaching the beached whale. A team from British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) were eventually able to assess the sperm whale as an adult female.

A spokesperson for the charity said: “Marine Mammal Medics identified this live, large cetacean to be a sperm whale, however due to the high tide preventing safe access, they were only able to observe from a distance. Sadly, the whale had died by the time the tide had retreated. Our medics noted that the whale was in incredibly poor body condition. CSIP performed a post-mortem examination in situ to determine the cause of death. The sperm whale was found to be female, and only the 4th female sperm whale to have beached in the UK in the last century.”

In 2019, a sperm whale washed up on Porth Neigwl, a beach popular with surfers. An autopsy later found it had plastic sheeting and knotted rope in its stomach. Since March, BDMLR has also dealt with whale strandings at Bridlington, Cleethorpes and Orkney. However, the group does not believe whale strandings are becoming more common.

They added: “The last few weeks have seen a number of large cetaceans washing up in various spots around the UK. While it is a somewhat rare occurrence to have a few large whales come ashore in a short space of time, there is nothing between these cases that would link them together. There are a number of species involved over a wide geographic area, and the causes of death at the moment appear to differ from animal to animal. It’s also worth noting that some of the whales that were found deceased were quite decomposed, which tells us that they had died many days or even a couple of weeks ago, so the timing of their deaths also dilutes any potential common link between them.”

The discovery of this sperm whale on a Welsh beach highlights the ongoing concerns about marine animals washing up on UK shores. The causes of these strandings are complex and can include illness, injury, pollution and the changing environment. The findings from the analysis of this latest sperm whale will help

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Pictures courtesy of Rob Deaville/CSIP