Sightings of what was initially thought to be a pilot whale in Loch Fleet, Sutherland were reported on Monday, but the creature was identified as a Risso’s dolphin when it came ashore on Wednesday afternoon.
The animal, nicknamed “Little Embo” after the nearby village, was too thin to go back to sea, so a decision was taken to put it to sleep rather than let it suffer any further.
Scottish SPCA officers, police, HM Coastguard and British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) marine medics from Caithness and Ross-shire were in attendance.
Risso’s dolphins are more common on the west coast but it is not unheard of for them to turn up on the east coast.
Vets from the Scottish Marine Animal Strandings Scheme carried out a postmortem examination on Thursday afternoon and are now awaiting test results to ascertain why the 10ft long dolphin became stranded.
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Dr Andrew Brownlow, pathologist for Scottish Animal Marine Stranding Scheme in Inverness, said: “A lot of these animals have neurological problems but it is questionable that we will get to the bottom of what was happening as it had to be shot.
“The welfare reasons come first and we needed to make sure that this animal did not suffer.
“There is a possibility that there was a disease process in the brain, but it is equally probable that it was scared away and got stranded and the process of it being left with the tide cycles could have caused a lot of tissue damage, making it too weak.”
Researchers from Whale and Dolphin Conservation are also looking at markings to try to identify the individual and where it was from since the range of Scotland’s Risso’s is still largely unknown.