Pod of 77 whales die on Orkney beach in mass stranding

There are rescue efforts underway to save the whales that are still alive.

Landowners have been called on by a council to help bury dozens of dead whales stranded on Orkney in what is possibly the largest mass stranding of whales in Scotland for decades.

A total of 77 of the animals were found on Tresness Beach on the island of Sanday, according to British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) who are on site.

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Only 12 of the mammals were still alive, and rescuers tried to save them but the decision was later taken for them to be euthanised.

Experts said it is too early to be able to tell what caused the stranding.

As with previous strandings, they said it is likely one of the whales got into trouble and because they are sociable creatures, the rest of the pod followed and tried to help.

Rescuers said the whales had clearly been stranded for several hours.

Orkney Islands Council has called for nearby landowners to help assist with burying the dead whales as a means of disposing of them.

A message from the director of the council’s Neighbourhood Services Hayley Green was shared on the Sanday residents Facebook page.

Ms Green said while with strandings it is common to let nature take its course, the large number of dead whales presents potential public health implications.

Ms Green’s message read: “I am writing to you for help with the current incident re the 77 pilot whales that have mass stranded in Sanday.

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“Although efforts are currently underway to try and save any that are still alive, it does look as if we will need to make arrangements to dispose of a large number of them.

“Where as we would usually let nature take its course with one pilot whale, it is obvious that we cannot go down this route with so many, given the public health implications.

“The most obvious disposal is to arrange to bury them at or near to their current site. Given your knowledge of Sanday are you able to suggest any landowners who would be willing to help us with this, it may even be that some landowners have already been in touch?”

Reports suggest the incident could be the largest mass stranding event in Scotland since at least 1995, when the the Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme (SMASS) was founded.

Molly Brown, who works for BDMLR, had said she hoped the mammals that were still alive could be refloated on the tide.

Before the decision was taken to euthanise the survivors, she said: “We have 77 animals stranded and only 12 are alive at the moment, the tide is on its way in.

“The whales are hopefully going to be refloated on the tide.

“We are just getting all our medics there at the moment, we have got medics heading from elsewhere on Orkney and other areas of Scotland.

“We will do our best to save the remaining live ones.

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“Pilot whales are incredibly sociable and so its possible that one of them stranded and the rest followed.

“It’s the largest one in a long time. We did have a mass stranding of 55 around this time last year on the Isle of Lewis.

“It’s a different part of Scotland – I don’t know if it’s just coincidence. There’s a lot of disturbance.”

Last year, an entire pod of 55 pilot whales died in a mass stranding on Lewis.

Only 15 of whales were alive when they were washed ashore. One was successfully re-floated while the rest had to be euthanised.

The largest UK stranding took place in 1927 when 126 out of more than 130 false killer whales - a species of oceanic dolphin - died in the Dornoch Firth in the Highlands, according to reports from the National History Museum.

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