Third recent fin whale stranding confirmed

16th Jan 2008 A dead whale which stranded at Bere Island, Co. Cork in Sunday 13th January 2008 has been positively identified as a fin whale Balaenoptera physalus. IWDG stranding co-ordinator, Mick O'Connell visited the site yesterday (15 January) and confirmed its species from its unique asymmetric baleen colouring.We can also confirm it to be a 13m female.

Remarkably, this is the third stranding of this species in recent weeks, beginning with the juvenile fin whale which live stranded at Roundstone, Co. Galway on the 28 December 2007. At only 6.56m, this was a very young animal and later died on the beach.

Later on the same day, a second fin whale live stranded and died at Glen Pier in Ballinskelligs, Co. Kerry. While direct measurements were not possible in this case, its length was estimated at 9-10m, meaning that it too was an immature animal.

Fin whale stranded at Glen Pier, Co Kerry© Mick O'Connell

To put this unexpected run of strandings in perspective it should be noted that there are only 29 confirmed fin whale strandings on the Irish database and 10.34% of these have been over a seventeen day period between 28 December 2007 and 13 January 2008. No strandings for this species were recorded in Ireland between 15 July 2003 (live stranding, Belgooly, Co. Cork) and 28 December 2007. In 2001 there were four records occurring in February (1), September (1) and December (2).

Fin whale, Bere Island© Mick O'Connell

At the moment, we can give no explanation for these events but hope that continuing research will answer some of our questions. Tissue samples have been taken from all three animals and will be sent to Sweden for analysis when appropriate licences are received from the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

Thanks to John Walsh for notifying us of the Bere Island whale and to Maurice Nelligan, without whose guidance I never would have found it!

Mick O'Connell,

Stranding Co-ordinator.

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