Whale death toll rises to 17 after mystery mass stranding

A group of whales became stranded on the coast of Fife, between Anstruther and Pittenweem. Picture: Getty
A group of whales became stranded on the coast of Fife, between Anstruther and Pittenweem. Picture: Getty
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ONE OF the ten pilot whales rescued from a Fife beach has died after becoming stranded again on the south shoreline of the Firth of Forth, at Leith.

The number of whales that have died since a mass stranding on Sunday has now risen to 17, with a huge clean-up operation underway to remove their carcases from the foot of cliffs between Anstruther and Pittenweem on the East Neuk of Fife.

The nine surviving members of the pod, which got into difficulties on Sunday morning, were last seen swimming towards deeper water in the Firth of Firth yesterday afternoon.

The operation to remove the dead whales is expected to take most of today with the mammals positioned in a difficult spot at the foot of steep cliffs.

Bob McLellan, head of transport and environmental services at Fife Council, said: “This is an incredibly awkward site as we have no direct road access and the whales are lying at the bottom of a cliff. However, to move them out to sea would be problematic due to the tides.

“Arrangements are now in place to winch the whales up the cliff face into lined skips. A specialist contractor will then deal with the disposal of the mammals. We are working with Sepa, the State Veterinary Service, the Coastguard and contractors to get the situation dealt with as efficiently as possible.”

Forth Coastguard was alerted to the incident at about 7am on Sunday and teams from St

Andrews and Leven, Anstruther lifeboat and Fife Police assisted the operation.

About 50 people were

involved in the rescue and by Sunday afternoon the surviving whales were put on to inflatable pontoons before being towed out to sea by an RNLI lifeboat.

The pod did not swim out to sea as was hoped, but was spotted close to the shore at Leith, where one of the whales stranded and died yesterday morning.

The other nine later turned away and, it is hoped, have gone out in to the North Sea.

Stephen Marsh, British Divers and Marine Life Rescue operations manager, said: “Reports came in from the Harbour Master at Port Leith of a pod of around ten pilot whales in the area close to shore. One of these later stranded just outside the port and has died naturally.

“The rest of the pod has now turned away and is out of sight, so it is hoped again that they will head out to deep sea and north.”

Professor Peter Tyack, from the Sea Mammal Research Unit at St Andrews University, said the whales may have come close to the shore because they will not leave a wounded or sick member of their school behind.

Prof Tyack explained: “Mass strandings of whales have been recorded for centuries. They are most common for species such as pilot whales, which tend to live in groups in the open ocean.

“Sometimes they may come near the shore to feed, sometimes a few animals may be ill, and sometimes the whales may be disorientated.

“If one animal is calling in distress onshore, other animals swimming freely may strand near the calling animal.”