Here is an update about the Minke whale we necropsied yesterday in the Eden estuary, St Andrews. This was a 6.35m sub-adult male with clear indications of recent, acute entanglement. With the assistance of staff and students from the Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU) we were able to conduct a pretty comprehensive necropsy on the beach during low tide.
There were very characteristic abrasions on the tailstock with evidence of bruising and fluid aspirated into the lungs; all consistent with the animal becoming caught in rope and, being unable to surface and breath, rapidly drowning. Otherwise the animal appeared healthy, although this we will confirm with additional testing.
This is the third cetacean entanglement case this year and looking back over the past 20 years, entanglement is the single most common cause of death diagnosed in minke whales, accounting for over 32% of mortalities in this species and most frequently in creel lines.
Large whale entanglement is a worldwide problem, and aside from being a welfare issue, can, in some species, also pose a significant risk to conservation.
By examining cases such as this, we are however able to better understand how and where these animals become entangled, hopefully leading to better mitigation in future. For this reason we are particularly grateful to all those who took and sent us detailed photographs of the suspected rope marks when the animal was first discovered.
photo credits: Scottish Marine Animal Strandings Scheme