A YOUNG sperm whale found dead on a beach in Joppa became stranded and died after the tide went out.
The mammal is likely to have crushed itself to death with its own weight without the sea to help it.
Teams from Police Scotland and animal rescue charities were at the scene as crowds gathered to see the stricken animal after it beached on sands near the Rockville Hotel, Joppa, on Saturday.
The Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme, which carried out tests on the 14-metre sperm whale at Dunbar Landfill Site, said it had not been hit by a propeller or boat as had been suspected.Director Dr Andrew Browlow, who described the operation to bring the whale to the landfill site as one of the most “amazing” recoveries he had ever seen, said there was some evidence to suggest it was alive when it became beached.
He said: “This young male probably made a wrong turning. We were able to get some useful samples and establish that the whale was not hit by a boat, nor did it suffer any trauma.”
The North Sea is considered to be a “whale trap” for sperm whales, being both too shallow to provide enough squid – their usual prey species – and difficult to navigate out of.
It is not unusual for pods of male sperm whale to enter the North Sea from sub-Arctic waters, following squid in the relatively deep waters off Norway.
Dr Browlow added: “In many cases when this happens they manage to go north again but if they head west they are funnelled in to a very shallow area of the Forth.
“Once they are in there navigation does not work very well – they can get disorientated because of the sounds of the shipping.
“They just can’t support their body weight out of the water and they basically crush themselves to death when the tide goes in. Situations such as these are rare, but not unheard of.”
The team was able to collect more than a kilo of squid beaks from the whale, which appeared to be relatively well fed.
A complex recovery saw the whale towed to sea to
Burntisland in Fife, lifted by crane into a lorry and driven to the landfill site.
The whale will be buried there and left to decompose naturally. It was deemed too dangerous to leave it where it was, as a build-up of gases can cause the carcass to explode.
Teams from Police Scotland, the Scottish SPCA, Whale and Dolphin Conservation and British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) attended the scene at Portobello after the whale was spotted early on Saturday morning, but there was nothing which could be done to save the stricken animal.
A spokesman for the British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) said: “There is little we can do in these cases, because sperm whales are massive and their body starts breaking down a short while after they die.”
Danny Groves from the campaign group Whale and Dolphin Conservation said: “When sperm whales strand in Scottish waters it is almost exclusively males that do so because the females stay in warmer seas, whilst the males migrate north to feed on Arctic and sub-Arctic squid.
“An error in navigation whilst the whale was returning from such a foraging trip north is the most likely cause of death in this particular case.”
In 2012, a pod of 26 pilot whales washed up in a beaching further up the east coast in Pittenweem, Fife.
Ten survived and were re-floated, but rescuers had to winch the carcasses of 13 whales to the top of a Fife beach to dispose of them.