Beached whale too exhausted to fight on

A BATTLE to save a 15ft minke whale stranded on a beach in East Lothian ended after the stricken animal died.

Yesterday’s rescue attempts were hampered by high waves and force eight gales, making it impossible to refloat the whale, which was already showing signs of exhaustion after being out of the water for up to 12 hours before it was spotted.

Up to eight RNLI volunteers worked for three hours in driving sleet and strong winds to refloat the whale on the beach at North Berwick. They ran into difficulties when the animal got trapped on nearby rocks.

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Rescuers from the British Divers Marine Life Rescue then took over the operation, assisted by the RNLI.

The battle to save the whale began yesterday morning after a woman noticed the whale and contacted the coastguard.

At the height of the rescue operation on the town’s east beach, volunteers from the RNLI wearing dry suits had tried to keep the whale upright to help it breathe through its blow hole, which was in danger of becoming blocked.

Ali Jack, Scottish director of the British Divers Marine Life Rescue, confirmed the whale had died of natural causes at around 2pm yesterday.

“By the tidal conditions we suspected it had come ashore for a full tidal cycle, which is 12 hours. After 12 hours a whale is usually no longer viable because its body weight crushes its internal organs and its muscles start to break down, which creates a toxin in the bloodstream.

“This meant it was in pain and distressed and if refloated would have died in agony. That’s why it was decided to call in a vet with large animal immobilisation drugs which would have ended its life in seconds.”

Mr Jack added: “Even if the whale had only been ashore for a few hours and was 100 per cent healthy, the conditions would have had to have been right to refloat it.”

Ted Hill, an RNLI deputy launching authority at North Berwick, said: “The whale did not appear to have any external injuries, just some minor cuts. We nearly got it floating, but it was not interested in getting back to sea, and then we realised it was very distressed and that it would not make it.

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“We were trying to do the rescue operation in heavy seas, perhaps force eight, and the force of the waves was so strong that we were in danger of being swept off our feet. The water suddenly deepened around us, and I said we had to stop. The whale rolled off the beach in the waves and then it was washed up on rocks.”

John Mccarter, a crew member with the North Berwick Lifeboat, said: “It is pretty tragic. Such a lovely animal, but we could not save it. This is the first time we have had a whale stranded in North Berwick for a while.

“Its tail is flapping around and a vet is on his way so it can be put down as it is the fairest thing to do, as nothing more can be done.”

The whale’s body was taken to a landfill site where a post- mortem will be carried out by vets from the Scottish Agricultural College. Some rescuers were called away after a pilot whale was found on the shoreline at Caithness, but it was dead when they arrived.