Essex coast pilot whales swim to deeper water, but one dies

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Media captionThe pod of 40 whales were filmed from a helicopter by Essex Police

A pod of "stressed" pilot whales, spotted in shallow waters off the Essex coast, have swum back to deeper waters, but one has died.

Forty whales were spotted on Tuesday in the shallow channels among the Blackwater Estuary sandbanks.

A juvenile female has been found dead on the mudflats, according to the British Divers Marine Life Rescue.

The rescue group said boats had helped get the rest of the pod back out to sea, but warned they could return.

Image copyright Stacey Belbin
Image caption The pilot whales became distressed after an ebb tide caused shallower waters off Brightlingsea
Image copyright Stacey Belbin
Image caption Experts were concerned the whales would become beached on sandbanks

There were fears the whales, which are about five metres long, could become beached on sandbanks when they were first seen about a mile offshore, between Jaywick and Brightlingsea.

Essex Wildlife Trust said the animals seemed "stressed and disorientated".

A police helicopter was used to keep other boats away and to help oversee the operation to encourage the whales, which had split into two groups, to reform and head for deeper water.


Before the dead whale was found, PC Kevin Flinn, from the Essex Police Marine Unit, said: "The whales were in very shallow water with the tide receding.

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Media captionRescue teams began their operation after the pod was spotted on Tuesday

"There certainly was a risk of them beaching on the sandbanks, but we moved them away from danger."

British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) said it was not uncommon for pilot whales to be found in cold waters, including the North Sea off the East Anglian coast.

Julia Cable, BDMLR spokeswoman said: "The [surviving] whales are in deeper water, but not far out, and they are not showing signs of confusion.

"They are feeding on herring, which they haven't been doing, so it shows they are doing something natural.

"The pod just needs to go further out and then they'll be alright, but they were spotted near Osea Island this morning, so they could enter shallow waters again."

A post-mortem examination on the dead juvenile is due to be carried out by the Zoological Society of London.

The pod was initially seen off the Norfolk and Suffolk coast last week and near Kent at the weekend.

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