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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.


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.


This year the Museum celebrates 100 years of collecting data about the porpoises, dolphins and whales that strand on our shores.


Although the Museum was collecting specimens of cetaceans for many years there was a lack of information about animals around the shores of the British Isles. So in 1911, to increase the numbers available for collection from around the UK coast, the Keeper of Zoology, Mr Sidney Harmer, suggested to the Museum's trustees and the Board of Trade (the goverment department whose responsiblity included wrecks and other things washed ashore)  that the Museum should be notified about any cetacean that came ashore.


After some debate, in June of 1912, the Board of Trade agreed to issue instructions to the Receiver of Wrecks to send 'telegraphic information' to the Museum regarding any cetacean that was reported to them. This was followed by a leaflet being sent in January 1913 to coastguard stations. The leaflet was a basic identification guide to improve the information being returned to the Museum.


In the first annual report published in 1914 there is a section bemoaning the fact that some reports were probably sharks and that the measurements taken 'were not completely uniform' - one early Fin Whale was reported to have measured 80 ft (about 25m) which would have made it a very large individual indeed.


On Friday evening the Natural History Museum will be hosting the annual Science Uncovered evening in which many of the museum's scientists will be talking about their research. If you are in the area come along and find about science at the museum.


As part of the evening some of the strandings team will be in the whale hall (where else would we be!) to chat about what we do and why its important.

We will be there from 4 pm to answer any your questions about how and why cetaceans around the UK end up on the shore.


The team had a great time at Lyme Regis, although the weather could have been warmer.


Many thanks to all those hundreds of visitors who came to our stand to talk about whales and dolphins along the Dorset coast. Our collection of parasites collected from post-mortemed animals was avidly examined by many young boys, while the girls (young and old) were generally less impressed by them.

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On Friday it was schools day, we had many groups from local primary schools. Below is a group of kids preparing to carry away a stranded (inflatable) dolphin that they have just bagged up ready to go off for postmortem. Our volunteer Sarah seems to have everyone under control.



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Saturday and Sunday were open to everyone and we had lots of locals and visitors asking about animals they had seen along the Dorset and Devon coastline. All were amazed at the number of stranded animals on the NHM and CSIP databases and the variety of dolphins, porpoises and whales that have stranded.


We look forward to next years Lyme Regis festival when we will celebrating 100 years of recording the cetaceans that come ashore around the UK


This weekend (5th and 6th May) is the Lyme Regis Fossil Festival and as part of the festival many of the Natural History Museum's scientists will be in the Grand Marquee on the seafront at Lyme Regis talking about fossils and lots of other things.

Members of the cetacean stranding team will be there to chat about the stranding project and some of the research that we do.  We have nearly 300 records from the Dorset area, from over a dozen different species of whale and dolphin that have stranded on the Dorset part of the channel.

We will bring along some interesting bits for you to see and if the weather is good we will be putting our Remotely Operated Vehicle into the water.

We will be there all weekend so come along if you are in the area, talk to us and find out more about these wonderful animals that end up stranded on our shores.

Hope to see you there.


Following the report by the Cetacean Stranding Investigation Programme (CSIP) published before Christmas several people have contacted the museum via twitter/facebook asking if the fall in the number of recorded strandings is due to decline in the number of cetaceans in UK waters? and whether man is responsible for the fall in numbers?


For those who have not read the report, one of the main points was there has been a 22% fall in the numbers of animals stranded between 2005 and 2010 compared with the number recorded 2000- 2005. Unfortunately we are only able to record dead animals and are not able to relate this number to the actual number of live animals around the UK coast. The number of stranded animals in 2011 looks to have increased over the 2010 numbers, does this mean a recovery for UK animals?  - No. One years data or even 5 years are not enough to show trends.


Now that whale and dolphin watching has now become a tourist activity, with places such as Cornwall and the Scottish Isles having commercial boats taking people to look at cetaceans, more people are aware of the sealife around the UK coast and there are websites to record sightings  eg Seawatch. Please do record any sightings, as no one knows how many animals there are swimming around our shores. There are several groups trying to identify individual whale and dolphins by photograhing their dorsal fins and tail flukes. For example the Seawatch Foundation run a Photo a Fin campaign to gather information.


However it is difficult to correlate the number of strandings with the number of live sightings. Many factors influence if information is gathered about dead animals, the main one being if someone actually reports that an animal has stranded to us. Most people assume that 'someone else' will do something about a dead cetacean, there are only a few occasions that a stranded animal is reported to us by more than one member of the public, so we believe many more go unreported. There is now a freephone to call (0800 6520333) to report any cetacean stranded in the UK


The reason for CSIP is to gather information about strandings (which the Natural History Museum started in 1913). With more data we can look for longer term patterns in the number of strandings and causes of death for animals which are taken for post mortem. We can then hope to influence the decisions made by goverments in London, Edinburgh and Cardiff about the marine life around the UK



The question of whether man activities causes the death of some cetaceans is not in doubt. There is evidence that manmade underwater noise causes cetaceans to panic and die due to embolisms - similar to the bends in human divers. One of the CSIP investigators co-authored a paper on the mass stranding of beaked whales in the Canary Islands in 2002 which was linked to navel sonar activity. It is rare to be able to link any death with one particular sonic activity. However most deaths caused by man are due to bycatch- animals which have died due to fishing eg caught in nets an ddrowned. Between 1991 and 2010 almost 600 animals have been had their cause of death identified at post mortem as bycatch. There is research underway into underwater 'pingers' to deter dolphins from going near fishing boats. CSIP are currently investigating the levels of toxic chemicals eg PCBs in dolphins. These manmade chemicals are known to accumulate in the top predators eg Dolphin and Killer whales and while may not cause death directly will impact on the general health of an animal. Man's activities also affect the other animals that CSIP investigate - seals, marine turtles and basking sharks.


Today the UK Cetacean Stranding Investigation Programme have issued a new leaflet about the programme with a handy identification guide on the back. The leaflet gives information about why we collect information about stranded animals and the sort of information we collect. It also lists many of the organisations which help in the project



The ID guide illustrates the common animals that strand around the shores of the UK


If you would like a copy you can download one at:   or if you need multiple copies please contact us at




Also today they have published their report for the 6 year period 2005-2010. This summaries the 3400 strandings that have been reported to CSIP over the 6 years. However we believe that some animals are not being recorded and encourage everyone to give us details of stranded cetaceans (and turtles, seals and basking sharks) using the freephone number 0800 6520333 or the email

The report can be downloaded from the DEFRA website:[1].pdf


It is DEFRA who finance the project in England,with the Scottish and Welsh goverments supporting the project in Scatland and Wales respectively. Without this funding CSIP would be unable to their valuable work.


The Sei Whale reported in the Humber Estuary yesterday has unfortunately died.

The animal was washed ashore on a high tide this morning. It is believed to be a young female animal. Vets from the Institute of Zoology at London Zoo have travelled there to hopefully determine why she died.


More information at:





Sei whales are rarely stranded on UK shores, the last stranding we have in our records was in 2001. This animal is only the 14th recorded occasion we have of this species in almost 100 years of strandings data.