Highlands & Islands

Rare whale dies after stranding on Hirta in St Kilda

Stranded Sowerby's beaked whale
Image caption The adult Sowerby's beaked whale was found in distress last week

A rare whale has died after it got into difficulty, along with its calf, on the shores of Hirta island in St Kilda.

The female Sowerby's beaked whale was found on the beach and its youngster in shallow water last Thursday morning.

Staff from the National Trust for Scotland and defence contractor QinetiQ refloated the 5m long adult, but it later died.

The calf managed to swim out into open water. However, the trust said it was unlikely to survive without its mother.

Rarely seen, Sowerby's beaked whales inhabit deep water in the North Atlantic and Baltic Sea.

Strandings of the whales on Scotland's west coast have mostly been close to the deep water of the Continental Slope.

Sowerby's were the first of the beaked whale species to be discovered, after one was found stranded in Scotland in 1800.

English artist John Sowerby described it four years later, giving the whale its name.

Image caption People working on Hirta went to the aid of the mother whale

The incident at St Kilda was reported to Nick Davison, coordinator of the Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme based at the Scotland's Rural College.

He said: "There have been 41 records of this species stranding around the Scottish coasts since 1989 nearly all on the west coast and quite a few from the Western Isles.

"It is one of the beaked whale family and almost all we know about this species comes from examining stranded animals."

Mr Davidson said it was unusual to find a mother and its calf involved in a stranding.

He said: "Hopefully tests on the samples taken at the post mortem will shed light on why this animal live stranded."

Trust ranger Gina Prior said: "The loss of such an enigmatic creature is massively unfortunate, particularly where the calf has been left orphaned, but the post mortem has provided a rare opportunity to learn more about an animal that is difficult to study in the wild."

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