A minke and a great multi-organisational team effort

Marine animal stranding and entanglement rescue and recovery attempts often require a team effort, bringing together lots of different individuals and organisations to share their resources and expertise. Last week members of the Scottish Entanglement Alliance (SEA) had the opportunity to work alongside the Scottish Coast Guard, Army, and local farmers when a minke whale live stranded in Ardersier near Inverness.

Blog written by SEA partner the Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme (SMASS) who conducted the post mortem:

If you heard rumours about a large whale being transported through Inverness last week; they are all true. And most of it even fitted on a lorry…On Tuesday evening (18th September) a minke whale was observed live stranding in Ardersier Bay near Inverness. Despite the best efforts of a number of British Diver’s Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) volunteers and the Coast Guard, the whale died not long after coming onto the beach. Due to the lack of daylight the carcase was secured for access and post mortem examination the following day.

Given the size of the animal, and hence the obvious issues with taking it anywhere, the initial thought was we would have to do the necropsy on-site at Ardersier bay. However, with a storm brewing and a forecast featuring gale force winds and horizontal hail, we rapidly explored options for transporting the animal to our lab in Inverness. Post-mortems in controlled lab conditions enable much more thorough investigations, better samples and generally happier pathologists, and hence was much the preferred option to find out why this thin minke had live stranded. Nevertheless the animal was 644cm long and weighed an estimated 2000kg; not an easy thing to shift! With the weather rapidly worsening we needed a solution quickly, and it was with great help of a local farmer that the carcase was moved off the beach, where the guys of the 3rd Battalion Royal Regiment of Scotland were waiting with their well-equipped high up truck. Having a 644cm minke whale on a 500cm truck does however mean that a noticeable bit of your whale dangles off the back; so it was quite a sight driving through the capital of the Highlands.

    

So with great thanks to the Army, we managed to get the minke to our lab for post mortem within 18 hours of death. The sub-adult female was very debilitated, had a thin blubber layer and had not recently fed, and showed pathology consistent with live stranding and agonal water aspiration. The most significant findings however were the severe lesions in the brain, characterised by an excess amount of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) and profoundly dilated cerebral ventricles. There were diffuse meningeal adhesions, most severe around the brainstem, and purulent foci in the frontal cortex. These observations are consistent with a meningoencephalitis due to a bacterial infection, and further bacteriological and histopathological examination is currently underway to establish the pathogen responsible for the infection. It is almost certain the cognitive ability of this animal was severely compromised as a result of these lesions, impairing the ability to forage and, ultimately, leading to the animal live stranding and drowning.

  

We would like to thank all involved in both the response to the live stranding of this animal and subsequent recovery of the carcase; including British Divers Marine Life Rescue, HM Coastguard – Highland, the Fort George 3rd Battalion Royal Regiment of Scotland, as well as the local farmer who moved the carcase, Highland Council, and all the locals who came by to lend a hand. It was a great multi-organisational team effort and we really could not have done this without you!

Photos courtesy of SMASS & Janie Logan (HM coastguard)

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