No obvious reason to whale stranding

Rescuers during the attempt to save as many whales as possible. Pic: John Kinsman.
Rescuers during the attempt to save as many whales as possible. Pic: John Kinsman.

AS the bodies of the dead pilot whales from the mass East Neuk beaching were removed last week, investigations continued into what could have caused the mammals to become stranded.

While post-mortems were being carried out, experts have been looking at claims that North Sea seismic testing may have affected the mammals’ behaviour and made them distressed or disorientated.

However, a leading member of the British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) charity – which was heavily involved in the East Neuk incident – said many factors could lead to strandings and a cause for this particular one had still not been identified.

The coast between Anstruther and Pittenweem was the scene of a major all-day rescue operation on September 2 after the pod of whales became marooned on ground below the high cliffs.

Around 10 were safely refloated by rescuers and volunteers at high tide, but the others sadly died.

Sea mammal welfare groups later claimed several seismic vessels were in various parts of the North Sea’s UK sector to conduct tests, shortly before the incident, which they suspected could have been a contributory factor.

Stephen Marsh, the BDMLR’s operations manager, told the Mail: “Many things can cause whales and dolphins to strand. These may be natural or anthropogenic and, as yet, a cause for this stranding has not been identified.

“There’s little doubt that seismic testing, whether military or for fuel exploration surveys, can affect the behaviour of whales and, for this reason, they all have to have a marine mammal observer on board to look out for whale and dolphin activity.”

Mr Marsh added the group had been in touch with one seismic firm, which suspended activities when asked and had not started its tests until after the stranding.

Hopes continued last week that the whales would eventually move to open water further north, after a group was spotted near the Forth bridges, while officials also appealed to pleasure boat skippers to stay away from them and not cause any further distress.

Meanwhile, the cost of removing and incinerating the 17 whale carcasses lifted from the beach was put at £10,000-£12,000.

Fife Council said the whales were sent to Keith in Aberdeenshire after being winched to the top of the cliffs from the ground at Pittenweem.