Coastguard officers were put on alert to guard the body of a dead sperm whale after the creature washed ashore in the Highlands.
The mammal was spotted yesterday morning in the Moray Firth near the village of Ardersier, between Inverness and Nairn, in the Highlands.
Charlie Phillips, a field officer for the Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC), was notified about the stranding around 11am.
The whale – thought to be about 20 to 25 tonnes – had been alive and rolling in shallow water for an hour before he got to the scene. A local Coastguard team was on site along with the British Diver Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR).
Mr Phillips said: “The whale died very soon after it stranded. It’s a fairly thin looking animal and not in good nutritional condition.
“It’s got to be examined properly, which will happen with the strandings team because there’s a protocol in place.
“We’ve also got Coastguard on scene because all stranded whales belong to the Queen, so HM Coastguard are actually the policemen, if you like, who guard the animal.”
He added: “People have a habit of trying to steal teeth because sperm whales’ teeth are quite valuable.
“The Coastguard are a wonderful bunch of people. It’s just one of these things that happen every now and again in rough weather. There’s not been a sperm whale for a while, poor thing. Nothing can be done now, but it’s past suffering.”
Mr Phillips said an examination would probably take place today, with efforts being made to move the whale’s body “up beach so the tide doesn’t carry it away”.
Mr Phillips said soldiers “very handily just a mile along road in the Black Watch battalion” had equipment that could help the process. Dr Andrew Brownlow, from the Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme, said he believed the whale made a “navigational error”.
He said sperm whales that become stranded on the east coast of the UK tend to be teenage males, whose normal feeding grounds are in the deep ocean trenches between Scotland and Norway.
“When it comes to the middle of winter and they are thinking of heading back down to their breeding ground in the Azores it seems they make a navigational error and rather than go through the Pentland Firth and through the Minch and down the west coast of Scotland they end up in the North Sea, which is not a great habitat for them with not a lot of food sources,” he said.