Pilot whales die after Highland beaching

Whale rescuers Rescuers have rushed to the coastline in the far north of Scotland

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Fifteen whales have died and many others have become stranded at Kyle of Durness, on the north Highland coast.

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) said the whales were believed to be from a pod of as many as 60.

The long-finned pilot whales may have been hunting prey or had sought a place to rest.

Rescuers trying to save the pod said the whales had perished when they stranded at low tide. About 35 beached as the water in the sea loch receded.

Some 20 of them were refloated to deeper water using inflatable pontoons as the water returned, but the remainder had died, the British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) charity said.

'Narrow channel'

It said many of the whales had stranded on their sides, on top of each other and upside down and were breathing in sand.

A further 20 are thought to be in deeper water and not in imminent danger.

On Friday three pilot whales, including a calf, beached on the shore of the loch.

A Royal Navy bomb disposal team training in the area offered its help in any rescue effort.

Scottish SPCA inspectors also headed for the scene.

Highland Council countryside ranger Donald Mitchell and nine coastguard volunteers monitored the situation.

Mr Mitchell said that at low tide only a narrow channel of sea remained.

Kyle of Durness opens out into Balnakeil Bay.

On Friday, Charlie Phillips, a Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS) field officer, said: "It is going to be tricky.

"It is a remote and difficult place to get to."

Mr Phillips added: "The whales may have come in from the Pentland Firth, following prey or trying to find somewhere to rest."

Marine strandings

He said a young female pilot whale was found at Scourie, in Sutherland, a few weeks ago.

A small group of onlookers watch rescuers try to refloat the stranded animals

SAC vet Dr Andrew Brownlow of the Scottish Agricultural College (SAC), who leads the Scottish Marine Animal Strandings Scheme, drove to the scene.

The college said: "Should any of the whales fail to make it back out to sea and do not survive, Dr Brownlow will lead post mortem examinations with the aim of identifying what has caused them to come ashore.

"This enables the Strandings Scheme to monitor trends in causes of marine strandings which in turn allows identification of any new or developing hazards to marine mammals in Scottish waters."

In May, two pilot whales were found dead in a Hebridean loch after experts feared more than 60 of the animals had been at risk of becoming beached.

The pod had got into difficulty in Loch Carnan in South Uist.

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