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The dolphin that recently appeared in the River Dee in Wales was fortunate to survive. Being a marine species, it was not used to a fresh water environment and very nearly perished after beaching on a sand bank. Fortunately, the RNLI were able to rescue the animal and return it to the sea where it could more easily hunt and find food.

 

Not all marine cetaceans that find themselves caught upriver are so fortunate. On Tuesday 27 August, at around 8.30pm, Greg Fonne took the following image from the Thames embankment, just east of Tower Bridge.

 

harbour-porpoise-river-dee.jpgThe animal in question appears to be a Harbour Porpoise, or Phocoena phocoena.


The Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme (of which we are a part) records around 300 cases of dead Harbour Porpoise on UK coasts each year. On many occasions, we collect the bodies, and take them for post-mortem examination. This is because we want to find out the cause of death, as well as monitoring levels of disease, toxins and pollutants, parasites, and all kinds of things that can only be discovered from taking a look inside the animal.

 

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Museum's whale and dolphin strandings monitoring programme. This porpoise found in the Thames will add to our data which shows us how populations are changing.

 

Cetacean statistics

 

Our data shows that in recent decades, the number of reports has increased dramatically. This could be explained by an increase in strandings, as well as an increase in communication methods and their ease of use and, of course, by the ever increasing human population with their eyes on the coast.

 

While the death of these beautiful animals seems a somewhat tragic event, an increase in the number of strandings is not necessarily a bad thing. It is evidence that the animals are living in UK waters, and surviving to breeding age. Through our work, which is government funded, we can keep watch on the effects of human behaviours on cetacean species.

 

Please help us to continue our work by spreading the word about the UK Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme, and by following us on twitter @WhaleStrandings.

 

Find out more about the Museum's Cetacean strandings project

 

Meet us in person at the Oceans Station at Science Uncovered on Friday 27 September

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Exactly one hundred years ago a scheme was implemented to record all of the strandings around the UK coast. The first animal to be recorded was a Cuviers beaked whale which stranded in Ireland. Below is the actual card index which details where and when the animal was found, the species and its size and sex. It also notes that some of the skeleton was recovered for the Museum.

Picture1.jpg

The first card index detailing the stranded Cuviers beaked whale, 100 years ago

 

The animal was first reported by HM Coastguard, and 100 years later they still continue to pass on reports. Since then the Museum has been gathering this data about the animals and we now have records of over 15,000 cetaceans that come ashore. Where possible we collect rare animals to join our historical collection of over 2,500 cetacean skeletons. These specimens provide an invaluable time series going back 400 years that can be used for present and future research.

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My line manager Brian is currently out picking up a harbour porpoise that live stranded in Essex over the weekend. Thanks to BDMLR,  Rosie and all those at the Wildlives  Rescue Centre for holding the animal for us, I know PM is never the out come you want (when rescue is the alternative) but hopefully we'll be able to find out why it stranded.


We also had a white beaked dolphin strand in Kent, sadly again BDMLR did all they could but couldn't save it so it's over to us. BDMLR have been little stars with this one as they have also delivered the animal to IoZ for post mortem. I'm afraid I don't have any names of the wonderful people that did this as the Project manager was dealing with it (and he's currently in Ireland) but a massive thanks to who ever you are!


(Should just add a quick note to keep the boss happy and say if you find a dead dolphin on the beach, please don't bung it in the back of a car and drive to London. BDMLR marine medics have all been trained and fully understand the health and safty issues involved in moving a cetacean!)

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179 animals in 39 days, that's a lot of work! Things seem to be easing up a bit now though, thank goodness!

 

 

“We saved more of them than we normally do,” she said. “Of the 179 only 71 were found alive and we successfully released 53 so that’s a 75 percent success rate. That was really high. In a great part that’s due to our fantastic volunteers and our ability to get to the animals quickly.”



Read more: Dolphin rescuers glad the tide of Cape Cod strandings is over - - Wicked Local Eastham http://www.wickedlocal.com/brewster/news/x587877869/Dolphin-rescuers-glad-the-tide-of-Cape-Cod-strandings-is-over#ixzz1oROEaORK

 

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A little while ago CSIPs head honcho Rob went to Devon to get a dolphin and came back with 3 5 post mortem animals for 2 trips this time he went and only came back with the one, standards are obviously dropping (just joking boss!).

 

We got wind of a live strandings over the weekend from BDMLR, the local coastguard and one of my favourite volunteers David J. Despite some local surfers staying in the water with the common dolphin for what sounds like hours, the local vet had to make the hard decision to put the animal down. I know everyone on the scene worked really hard to keep the animal alive and were understandably disappointed at the outcome. It’s not the perfect end to the story but hopefully our post-mortem will help answer some questions about why the animal had to die.

 

David J just emailed me this picture of one of the guys trying to save the dolphin, such a shame it didn't work out.

 

1-11-2011- to 6-12-2011 290.JPG

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It's been a busy week for pick ups, CSIP's head honcho Rob did a gallant round trip to Devon to pick up 2 animals and whilst on the road I got a call about a 3rd on Hayling Island beach. With a squeal of the brakes and a quick turn around Rob was able to squeeze the third animal in the back of his car.

 

There was then a 'mass' stranding in Kent, nr Folkstone. I say 'mass' as it was 2 animals, probably not quite what you'd term as mass but scientific history states 2 or more animals to be recorded as 'mass'. Unable to get anyone to check the animals were still there and not being too far away myself, I headed there on the Monday morning. I had a fun time scouting what is possibly one of the larges beaches I've ever seen for 2 not very large harbour porpoises. With the help of a very lovely couple (sorry I didn't get your names) we managed to track down the animals and secure them for pick up by James (who was on his way from the museum).

 

Unfortunately I've been unable to put up PM results so far as they all have to go to Defra first, but after talking to head honcho Rob he said we may be able to put up some basic results a bit sooner, fingers crossed!

 

2 head.JPG

 

 

Photo of one of the 'mass' strandings from New Romney, photo by Susanna Clerici

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We've had quite a few reports in recently and I'd like to thank everyone that has reported to us. Even if the animal is just a bag of bones and blubber (it happens more then you'd think), we still want to hear about it!

 

Notably I'd like to thank the Reciever of Wreck and London coastguards who have helped us today with the pick up of a harbour porpoise, in Chiswick London.

 

Sadly a common dolphin at Shaldon beach, South Devon had to be disposed of as we couldn't organise a driver for it to be picked up (people are always busy during the school holidays), but a massive thanks to Sarah and Paul for all your help and I'm sorry we couldn't make it work.

 

Lastly a massive thanks to Dave and the owners of Woolacombe beach (nice work if you can get it), who helped us pick up a young common dolphin from North Devon a few weeks ago.

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Large numbers of strandings, mainly bottlenose dolphins, has been happening on the Gulf Coast.

 

There has been some press speculation that it is linked to the recent oil spill however its worth noting that numbers were up before the spill happened. It's unlikely that the spill has helped and it looks like the oil may have decreased dolphin immunity, increasing their susceptibility of brucella, but it's not the only/main problem in this situation.

 

Sorry I'm going to link to 2 stories, the first one has some excellent graphs and maps to get a clear picture of whats going on:

 

 

graph_bottlenose_strandings.jpg

 

Source: http://motherjones.com/blue-marble/2011/10/whale-dolphin-deaths-gulf-twice-normal

 

This second one has a good write up..

 

The strandings peaked this year in March, with 72 reported from Florida to the Texas-Louisiana border. Sixty-seven of those were bottlenose dolphins. Since August, 52 more strandings have been reported, including nine this month.

 

More than 45,000 dolphins are estimated to call the Gulf home, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service.

 

And while many speculate that the deaths may be linked to the Gulf oil spill, scientists say the phenomenon started months before the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and began pouring oil into the Gulf.

 

“We were already consulting with the mortality group (to open up an investigation) when the oil spill occurred. And the number has never gone back down,” Fougères said.

 

Source: http://www.houmatoday.com/article/20111024/ARTICLES/111029742

 

 

Unfortunetly it is often very hard to tell what is causeing an event like this, not sure if we'll find out why this time.

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We often get reports of 'shot' animals here but it has, so far, never proved to be the case. Scavenger damage can produced perfectly round holes that do look a lot like bullet wounds. In this case however it sadly looks like the animal was in fact shot, as a bullet has been recovered from the jaw.

 

Very sad story.

 

The nearly 11-foot-long short-finned pilot whale, which was near death, weighed about 740 pounds but should have tipped the scales at more than 1,000 pounds. It died shortly after police responded, but it wasn’t until a necropsy was performed that the cause of death was revealed.

 

Someone had shot the whale.

 

The wound near its blow hole had closed and faded somewhat, indicating the animal had been wounded as long as a month ago, said Bob Schoelkopf, co-director of the Marine Mammal Stranding Center. The bullet lodged in the whale’s jaw, causing an infection that left it unable to eat.

 

shotwhale.jpg

 

 

 

Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/officials-search-for-person-who-shot-whale-that-washed-ashore-in-new-jersey/2011/10/04/gIQAuFkiKL_story.html

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Hearing rumours of a sei whale in Humberside this morning, which is very exciting. These are very rare strandings as they prefer deep off shore waters, we've only seen 3 in the last 22 years. The boys are on their way to investigate, and hopfully perform a post mortem.

 

Sei whales are the third largest Balaenopteridae and are up to 20m long they are filter feeders, enjoying the same diet as other filter feeders, consisting mainly of krill. They got hit hard by the hunting and were initally protected, however sadly they remain a part of the 'research' conducted by Japan. It can be fairly easy to confuse them with fin whales but an inside tip for you is that fin whales have asymmetrically patterened baleen, gray and white, while the sei whales is just white. They can shift as well, reaching 30 miles an hour but only for short distances, but compared to other species they are a bit rubbish are diving, only reaching shallow depths and rarely staying down for more then 15 minutes.

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I've not updated for a few weeks as I've been on holiday and we've had a bit of a busy run of things.

 

A live stranded harbour porpoise on the Isle of Wight was picked up for pm by our team http://www.islandpulse.co.uk/b2/british-divers-attempt-to-rescue-porpoise-8756/

 

I went to Dorset on Friday to pick up another porpoise that stranded in Dorset last week, a massive thank you to Dave and Dorset council for all their help!

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Had a couple of animals coming in over the weekend at this stage they are all believed to be harbour porpoises, although I'm waiting on photos to confirm this.

 

1 came in on Berwick beach in Northumberland, thanks to the local council for all their help with this animal.

1 at Thurlstone beach in the Wirral, thanks to Gemma for reporting it and for still managing to find time to chat to me this morning dispite dogs and kids all wanting her attention!

Finally thanks to HM Coastguards at Happisburgh for reporting their porpoise that stranded at Cart Gap in Norfolk.

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We've had several reports of a fin whale at Lynmouth beach in Devon. Its on a very popular beach in the middle of summer so unsurprsingly the press is all over this one! The animal is approximatly 55ft and believed to be female.

 

Our CSIP collegues are also all over it and I believe will be performing a post mortem today.

 

fin whale.jpg

Photo by Apex

 

As always I'll up date this post when we get the pm results back.

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Massive thankyou to Tim Kenny for reporting a harbour porpoise to us that had stranded at Thorpness in Suffolk. Sadly due to a mix of vets on holiday/being exusted from the pilot whales in Scotland and no space in the fridge or freezer, we were unable to collect this little guy for post mortem.
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A few weeks ago we had a report of one harbour porpoise in Waxham and one unidentified (rather smelly) cetacean in Brancaster harbour.

 

A massive thanks to the coastguard for forwarding this information to us!