This is an exciting time of year to be co-ordinating our cetacean recording project. There’s plenty of whales and dolphins around so it’s hard to keep track of all the sightings up and down the coast.
Our dedicated volunteers have been eagerly surveying what they see both on land and at sea when conditions allow but last week brought with it some unexpected and sad sightings.
During a wildlife watching trip out of Staithes, our onboard surveyor photographed two dead minke whales floating on the surface close to land. Another was reported dead not far away. The distressing photos show one whale upturned on its back entangled in a thick fishing line, its decomposing body bloated as gases build inside. The other whale, floating on its side, was reported to have a large head injury. While minke whales do wash up occasionally on the coastline here, finding three minkes dead at sea at the same time and within such close proximity to each other is rare here.
So what happened to them? At the time of writing only one whale we know to have washed ashore so far and it has been pulled off the beach to higher ground to prevent it re-floating back out to sea. This will allow a team of experts to come and undertake an autopsy to attempt to determine the cause of death. While it looks as if the fishing line may have played a part in the death of at least one of these animals, it is important to wait for the results of a post mortem (if one can be undertaken) to get a better understanding of what has happened to these animals. Collecting data on both live and dead strandings is valuable in helping us detect any patterns around causes of death and changes in mortality rates.
While we await more information on cause of death, it’s safe to say that, as our seas are busier than ever, it’s never been more important to understand what’s happening out there to cetaceans and other marine wildlife. They face unprecedented threats from human activities, from climate change and entanglement in fishing nets, to pollution and ship strikes.
September is increasingly being recognised as a peak time for viewing minke whales in the north of Yorkshire, which can be seen from land with patience and a good pair of binoculars. Bottlenose dolphins have also been seen regularly in recent years, delighting onlookers with their characteristic acrobatic displays.
So how can you help? If you’re lucky enough to see a cetacean then report it on the SeaWatch Foundation website.
If you find a cetacean stranded, live or dead, along the coastline, then get in contact with BDMLR. And finally, if you’d like to carry out dedicated cetacean surveys for us, then get in contact and we’ll give you more information on our upcoming training events for Sea Watch Observers.