rare species | 

Dead whale and porpoise are washed up on Co Down coast just miles apart

It is believed the whale — thought to be a Fin Whale, the second largest species of cetacean on earth after the blue whale — had been dead for some time

The dead porpoise washed up on shore near Newcastle, Co Down (Picture by Paul McCambridge / MAC Visual Media)

Amy CochraneBelfast Telegraph

One of the world’s largest species of whale and a porpoise have been washed up only a few miles apart along the Co Down coast overnight.

In the early hours of Tuesday, a dead whale was spotted washed up at Minorstown Beach near Tyrella.

A few hours later a dead porpoise was sighted stranded on Murlough Beach in Newcastle, just 10 miles away.

It is believed the whale — thought to be a Fin Whale, the second largest species of cetacean on earth after the blue whale — had been dead for some time. The whale is estimated to be around 18m in length and is one of the rarest species to be spotted stranded on beaches across Ireland.

Stephanie Levesque is the Stranding Officer for the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group and said that it is difficult to determine the definite species of whale due to the current state of decomposition it is in and without proper examination, but it is likely to be a Fin Whale.

“Big whales like this are more rarely stranded but you can still expect one or two a year,” she explained.

“For porpoises they are a bit more commonly found here, with around 30 to 40 sightings of the stranded animals so far this year alone.”

According to the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, there are a number of reasons why these mammals might have washed up on our shores, but it is difficult to determine the definite cause of death without a proper post-mortem.

“It is likely that they died at sea and have just been washed ashore, rather than them being washed up and then dying here,” explained Stephanie.

“A recent study showed that around 18% of all animals that die at sea end up washing ashore at some point.”

One reason we may see two animals washed up in a short space of time could be linked to recent extreme weather conditions.

“After stormy winds or heavy rain, it is more likely that animals will start to wash ashore and we can expect to get a few reports immediately after storms,” she said, adding that this time of year there are normally a number of sightings due to the beginning of “storm season”.

“While it is hard to predict peak stranding times, historically speaking the winter period is when you would expect it to be busy,” she said.

“The most commonly stranded are dolphins, with porpoises being the second most frequently stranded.

“The most common whale to be found would be the Pilot Whale — measuring around four metres in length — and we normally see about 20 of these in a year along our beaches.”

She said that it is important that members of the public remain cautious around the dead bodies of the animals. “The whale has been partly decomposed so it is difficult to tell what happened, and the porpoise was possibly injured out at sea,” she said.

“Recent marks on it indicate scavenger damage from other animals starting to eat the carcass, but whatever the reason, it is very important that people who do spot these animals do not touch them as any dead mammal can carry a disease dangerous to humans, so it is vital that they are not disturbed.

She has urged anyone who spots a dead whale or member of the dolphin family to take a photograph of the animal and send it on to the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group with GPS location of the sighting via their app.

“It is vital to use common sense when you come across one of these animals and not to touch them because we don’t know for certain why they die but it is important to be careful,” she added.

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