A fin whale, the world’s second-largest animal, was discovered dead on Cornwall’s south coast on Thursday, 12 January. Marine experts from British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) and Cornwall Wildlife Trust (CWT) have urged the public to help them find its carcass again, after it was swept back out to sea overnight.
BDMLR was alerted at 3.20pm after a member of the public reported what was believed to be a live whale ashore near Perranuthnoe Beach. A small team of the rescue service’s volunteer Marine Mammal Medics attended the scene.
“The whale was not very easy to spot, being some distance along the coast on a headland and mostly still submerged,“ said BDMLR director Dan Jarvis. “Only its head was really noticeable, having been forced up onto the rocks by the rough sea, while the rest of its body was very much in motion with the tide and waves.
“Unfortunately when we arrived it became apparent that the 12-15m-long animal was already deceased. It was far too dangerous to get close, so our team stayed back a safe distance to assess it visually, collect photos and feed back information to our colleagues at Cornwall Wildlife Trust and Falmouth Coastguard.”
Fin whales can grow as long as 24m and weigh up to 120 tonnes. BDMLR volunteers later identified the animal as a female in poor nutritional condition, though the cause of death could not be determined without a post mortem examination. By the time CWT volunteers returned the following day to carry this out, the whale had gone.
Sightings of large whales have become more common in Cornwall in recent years. In 2021, volunteers from CWT’s Seaquest Southwest project recorded 12 fin and 21 humpback whales.
“To see the body of this majestic mammal onshore is extremely upsetting and sad,” said CWT marine conservation officer Abby Crosby. “But if the animal is found again, it provides a fantastic opportunity for us to examine the individual and collect scientifically robust evidence that will help us conserve our marine megafauna for the future.
“At Cornwall Wildlife Trust, we’re celebrating 20 years of running the Marine Strandings Network this year. It’s safe to say we would know far less about the state of our Cornish seas and the threats to our vulnerable marine life if it wasn’t for our dedicated strandings volunteers, reports from members of the public and the partner organisations we work so closely with.”
Fin whales are found throughout the world’s oceans but, since being heavily hunted in the 19th and 20th centuries, they are IUCN Red Listed as a Vulnerable Species.
Anyone spotting the missing whale or other dead animals along Cornwall’s coastline are asked to report it immediately on CWT’s 24-hour strandings hotline, 0345 2012626. Live stranded animals in need of rescue can be reported to BDMLR’s rescue hotline, 01825 765526.
Florida’s first orca stranding
On the other side of the Atlantic, an orca has been found stranded on a northern Florida beach – the first time such an occurrence has been reported in the south-eastern USA.
The 6.5m adult female died on 11 January near the city of Palm Coast, though there were no obvious signs of injuries, according to Flagler County Sheriff’s Office.
Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission staff helped marine biologists from SeaWorld to remove the carcass so that a post mortem could be carried out to determine the cause of death.
Orcas are usually associated with colder northern waters, but there is a small western North Atlantic population and another in the Gulf of Mexico. Threats to the animals include fishing-gear entanglement, ship strikes and noise, pollution and food shortages.
Also on Divernet: Fin Whales Welcomed Back To Antarctica, Whale Calf Led Divers To Mother, Diver’s Orca Binge Brings Record Fine, Female Killers v Blue Whale – A World First