First genetic identification in Ireland of a stranded whale

12th Apr 2001 On 25 March 2000, a dead whale, approximately 5 m in length, was found in very poor condition near Doonbeg, Co Clare by Simon Berrow of the IWDG as part of the IWDG Stranding scheme. Although the whale could be identified as a beaked whale, the lower jaw was missing preventing us from identifying which species of beaked whale it was (there are about 20 species worldwide with 4 recorded in Irish waters).

Simon sent a sample of tissue from the animal to Merel Dalebout at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. Merel extracted DNA from the tissue and conducted a phylogenetic analysis to identify which species it was. The results, when compared with samples from known species, identified the animal as being a Cuvier's beaked whale (Ziphius cavirostris).

This is the first time a stranded whale in Ireland has been identified using genetic techniques. The Doonbeg animal represents the fourth stranded Cuvier's beaked whale reported during a 6-week period between 14 March and 1 May 2000; one in each of the counties, Sligo and Kerry and two in Co Clare. Previously, the stranding rate for Cuvier's beaked whales in Ireland was approximately one every four years which suggests these were unusual stranding events.

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