A whale washed ashore on an East Lothian beach at the weekend died an agonising death after suffering some of the worst entanglement ever seen by experts.
A team from the Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme (SMASS) found horrific injuries on the 14ft female Sowerby’s beaked whale which died on the shore at Gullane at around 3am on Saturday.
The 650kg whale had a loop of rope embedded so deep into her skin that it had grown over the wound. It also suffered severe trauma to its pectoral fin.
A necropsy – post mortem examination – found the whale had a deep tissue infection and abscesses.
Although it had been able to hunt, the whale had been able to eat but had not been consuming large amounts and had not fed immediately before it died.
There were goose barnacles attached to the rope – an indication that the entanglement had considerably slowed the swimming capabilities of the whale. Based on the depth of the tissue trauma and the damage to the flank, it is highly likely this loop around the neck had been attached to longer and heavier material, according to Dr Andrew Brownlow, who heads up SMASS, which is part of Scotland’s Rural College.
Dr Brownlow said: “This is the ninth cetacean entanglement we’ve seen this year and one of the worst we’ve ever encountered. This animal suffered for a long time, certainly weeks, possibly months and died what we can only assume was an agonising death.
“It’s not possible to work out where the rope came from, but it is similar to the type of material used in both recreational and commercial creel and net fisheries.”
He said that those involved in the fishing industry were in a position to address the problem of ghost gear and rope debris left behind in the water which kill.
Dr Brownlow added: “There are things we can all do to mitigate this. Beach cleans work – every piece of debris, rope or net taken out of the marine environment is one less hazard in the sea. If you can’t remove it, at least cut any loops, which are particularly hazardous as they form a noose into which animals become trapped.
“Everyone is responsible for the current state of our seas. Everyone has the opportunity to improve them. Please take what action you can.”