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News from the Museum's whale, dolphin and porpoise strandings team

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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.

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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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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.

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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.

 

http://www.nhm.ac.uk/visit-us/whats-on/after-hours/science-uncovered/index.html

 

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.

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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.

 

 

2012-05-04 10.55.09-2.JPG

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

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Whats new?

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Harbour porpoise carcass in the Thames 7 months ago by MollyatStrandings MollyatStrandings
100 years of stranding records at the Natural History Museum - part 2 1 year ago by Strandings Co-ordinator Strandings Co-ordinator
100 years of recording stranded cetaceans - part 1 1 year ago by Strandings Co-ordinator Strandings Co-ordinator
Come and meet the team at Science Uncovered 28th September 1 year ago by Strandings Co-ordinator Strandings Co-ordinator
Update on Lyme Regis Festival 1 year ago by Strandings Co-ordinator Strandings Co-ordinator
Strandings team visit Lyme Regis Fossil Festival 1 year ago by Strandings Co-ordinator Strandings Co-ordinator
Interesting video about the Peru strandings 1 year ago by Strandings Officer Strandings Officer
White Orca spotted 1 year ago by Strandings Officer Strandings Officer
Book review: The Sounding of the Whale 2 years ago by Strandings Officer Strandings Officer
Hoopla, happy news for Swiss dolphins! 2 years ago by Strandings Officer Strandings Officer
Peru mass strandings currently around 600 animals. 2 years ago by Strandings Officer Strandings Officer
Post mortem animals, an Essex harbour porpoise and a Kent white beaked dolphin. 2 years ago by Strandings Officer Strandings Officer
Dolphins rescued from a tiny pool in Turkey are recovering really well! 2 years ago by Strandings Officer Strandings Officer
Amazing video of dolphins being saved from mass stranding 2 years ago by Strandings Officer Strandings Officer
Cape Cod strandings finally easing 2 years ago by Strandings Officer Strandings Officer
Gangetic dolphin survey to start in February 2 years ago by Strandings Officer Strandings Officer
Seems 'Chance' is still going strong! 2 years ago by Strandings Officer Strandings Officer
I'm back! (plus some interesting cetacean behaviour) 2 years ago by Strandings Officer Strandings Officer
Are cetacean numbers around the UK falling? 2 years ago by Strandings Co-ordinator Strandings Co-ordinator
Watch a common dolphin post mortem 2 years ago by Strandings Officer Strandings Officer
CSIP issue a new strandings leaflet and 6 year report 2 years ago by Strandings Co-ordinator Strandings Co-ordinator
Porpoises Return to San Francisco Bay 2 years ago by Strandings Officer Strandings Officer
Another pick up 2 years ago by Strandings Officer Strandings Officer
Irish 'lake' dolphin found dead 2 years ago by Strandings Officer Strandings Officer
Further on the Gulf Coast strandings. 2 years ago by Strandings Officer Strandings Officer

The Museum's strandings team

We are a team of scientists at the Museum who gather information about the strandings of the following marine mammals on the English coast:


  • whale
  • dolphin
  • porpoise

 

We do this to try and determine why such strandings occur.

 

Find out more about the team and the strandings project

What to do if you find a stranded animal

If you find a living whale, dolphin or porpoise please report it to the:

 

 

If you find a dead whale, dolphin or porpoise on the English coastline please report it to the local coast guard and the Museum's stranding team.

 

How to report a stranding to the Museum's team

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The Deep Sea



The Deep Sea exhibition took place at the Museum in May to September 2010.

If you visited the exhibition and collected content from it on your NaturePlus card you can view it here:

View your Deep Sea collection

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