Another rare live stranding in Co. Antrim

14th Sep 2013

In July 2006 a young 10m long sei whale Balaenoptera borealis swam into Larne Lough where it was eventually euthanized after a number of attempts to encourage it out to sea again. This was particularly unusual as it was the first confirmed stranding of this species on the coast of Ireland in almost 100 years with two previous strandings on record - Kerry in 1914 and Cork in 1913. It was with some surprise that we heard of what appears to be another live stranding of a sei whale today (14 September) at Waterfoot Harbour, Red Bay, Co. Antrim - only some 30km from the location of the 2006 event.

Todays stranding was attended by staff from DOE Marine Division, Coastguard and IWDG members as well as local people. Ian Enlander, who was on the scene for eight hours takes up the story:

"We were contacted by Coastguards this morning about a whale in difficulties near Cushendall/Waterfoot - in Red Bay harbour. Arrived around 9.30am to view what I took as a minke whale, alive but already beached on a falling tide in a shallow bay beside the harbour pier. Estimated at 6 - 7m but latter measured at 9m.

Local fishermen had noticed it at first light swimming strongly in circles close inshore - which was exactly the behaviour shown by the Larne sei whale in 2006. We thought it might be possible to try a refloat but no boat could be accessed and within 30mins the whale was firmly trapped in the soft sand. As the tide fell it was clear that this wasn't a minke whale, there were no white bands on the pectoral fins and looking at the blowhole, it was clear that the rostrum was large and head shape/general appearance certainly not minke like. Clear view of right jaw area showed no white colouration (as would be found in a fin whale) and finally, a clear view of the fine, hair like baleen to the back of the plates suggested that Antrim had just had it's second sei whale stranding in just over seven years.
 
The animal looked quite emaciated and died before the vet arrived. The carcass is tied down on the beach and it is hoped to conduct a post mortem on Monday in an attempt to establish the cause of death."
 
Sei whales have a worldwide distribution, especially in temperate waters and tend to be found further offshore than fin whales. They may be under recorded in Irish waters as they can be difficult to distinguish from other species of baleen whale at sea.
 
Mick O'Connell,
IWDG Strandings Officer