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Beached Gorleston whale may have tangled tail in fishing gear

PUBLISHED: 09:24 20 June 2013 | UPDATED: 15:43 20 June 2013

A Minke Whale which was spotted washed up on the beach at Gorleston.
The whale is removed from the beach by officials.

Picture: James Bass

A Minke Whale which was spotted washed up on the beach at Gorleston. The whale is removed from the beach by officials. Picture: James Bass

(C) Archant Norfolk 2013

A distressed whale calf may have got her tail tangled in fishing gear, before she struggled her way to a Norfolk beach.

A minke whale calf put down on Gorleston beach was examined at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) by the Cetacean Stranding Investigations Programme (CSIP). Credit: CSIP-ZSL. A minke whale calf put down on Gorleston beach was examined at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) by the Cetacean Stranding Investigations Programme (CSIP). Credit: CSIP-ZSL.

Experts have conducted a post-mortem examination on the young female minke whale that had to be put to sleep at Gorleston in the early hours of Sunday.

They concluded the lost whale –separated from her mother – may have been just “a few weeks old”.

She had been spotted near Pleasurewood Hills at 7pm on Saturday, before struggling on to Gorleston where she beached two hours later.

Despite a colossal effort to save her, a local vet put her to sleep at 3am on Sunday to spare her the agony of drying up on land.

A minke whale calf put down on Gorleston beach was examined at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) by the Cetacean Stranding Investigations Programme (CSIP). Credit: CSIP-ZSL. A minke whale calf put down on Gorleston beach was examined at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) by the Cetacean Stranding Investigations Programme (CSIP). Credit: CSIP-ZSL.

Great Yarmouth Borough Council officers kept the whale in secure storage until she was transported to the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) on Tuesday.

Rob Deaville, head of the Defra-funded Cetacean Stranding Investigations Programme (CSIP), helped conduct the examination.

He said the whale was 3.3m long and around 330kg in weight, and was showing signs of starvation – with “no signs of recent feeding”.

And he said her tail had injuries consistent with being tangled in fishing gear, though it is “impossible” to establish exactly what happened.

Starvation is the “most significant factor” in the whale’s live stranding and the decision for her to be put down by injection, he said.

“We also found chronic lesions around the tail that are consistent with a period of entanglement in unknown material,” added Mr Deaville. “It’s impossible to say whether this represented entanglement in fishing gear, discarded gear or marine debris.

“Nothing was found around the tail when the animal stranded and the injuries are of uncertain significance in relation to the animal’s stranding.”

Follow-up tests are still pending – including one in bacteriology – and these may shed further light on the cause of the stranding.

The stranding at Gorleston last weekend was the third stranding of a minke whale in the UK this year.

There were nearly 600 nationally in 2012.

Humber Coastguard had been called to Gorleston beach at 8.55pm on Saturday, with teams from Gorleston and Lowestoft paged to the scene.

After a concerted effort residents managed to re-float the whale.

But when the whale stranded herself again it became apparent that she could not survive on her own.

Vet Zak Leavold, who is clinical director at Gorleston and Lowestoft- based Veterinary Hospital, said: “Unfortunately we had to put it to sleep to stop it from suffering and drying up on land, which would be horrible for it.

“The whale was quite stressed by that point.”

A JCB was used to move the whale from the beach.

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