Another sperm whale has become stranded on the east coast of England, the sixth to wash up on British shores in recent weeks.
The huge mammal washed up at Hunstanton beach in Norfolk and died on Thursday evening, according to British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR).
Stephen Marsh, operations manager for BDMLR, said there was nothing the volunteers could do due to the size and weight of the animal.
“It’s a sperm whale, another male. It’s the 29th stranding we’ve had in Europe in the last couple of weeks,” he said.
Before the whale died, he added: “We had two in Germany last night, one in France on Tuesday night. It’s a live stranding but it’s unlikely to survive. The tide may well lift it but we don’t think it would survive another stranding if it came back in.
“There’s nothing we can do; it’s likely to be between 25 and 30 tonnes. We can’t lift it, we can’t roll it, the vets can’t put it out of its misery. The body will be breaking down and releasing toxins, causing organ failure. It’s a very sad case but we will have to let nature take its course.”
Kate Dunbar, a local councillor who has been at the scene, told Sky News how volunteers were trying to bring the whale relief by covering it in water. “They’ve used a digger and dug a hole in the sand, the water has been welling in it and people have been back and forth with buckets of water to pour over the whale to make it more comfortable. It’s a very sad sight.”
Although high tide arrived at Hunstanton beach about 2pm on Thursday afternoon, the whale did not recover.
Once the animal is out of the water, “it is already dying”, Marsh said. There were specific problems with beached sperm whales “who cannot be moved, are in a pool of their own blood … probably blocking a lung”, BDMLR said.
Coastguards received a call at 7.30am on Thursday alerting them that the 14-metre whale had beached itself, the Maritime and Coastal Agency confirmed.
Scott Baldry had been working at the nearby Le Strange Arms with a friend when he saw people gathering at the area around 9am and said: “It is not often that you see a whale on the beach and when we got closer it became apparent it was a sperm whale. We could see it was still breathing and the fin was moving.”
A spokesperson for the Maritime and Coastal Agency said: “They are magnificent creatures but we’re just advising people to keep a safe distance, especially if the whale is still alive, it will cause distress to the animal.”
The latest stranding comes after a whale washed up at Hunstanton beach on 23 January, and three whale carcasses were hauled away from a beach near Skegness a day later.
On 25 January, a fifth whale was found stranded at Wainfleet. Experts believe the whales stranded on the east coast of England were probably from the same as the 12 that washed up last month on the coastlines in Germany and the Netherlands.
The six whales that washed up on British beaches have all been males. Marsh said: “The females and calves stay in warmer waters and the males leave as they become sexually active and form bachelor pods. They will then go back to the warmer areas on an annual basis to mate.
“We don’t know if they were trying to migrate down to the tropics but there’s no sign yet of any manmade activity that would cause them to come in, but that is being investigated.”
Rob Deaville, project manager at the UK Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme and the lead pathologist examining the previous beached Lincolnshire whales, had said it was “reasonable to assume” that the pods entered the North Sea together in the hunt for food.
“The question that’s left still hanging is why they came in the North Sea in the first place and whether the French, the German events are all connected in some way,” he said in January.
“I think it’s reasonable to assume that the pods – because there can be more than one pod – came in at the same time, given the spatial and temporal stranding events. I think that’s a reasonable assumption to make.”
The whale is said to be 1.5 miles out on the sand and the coastguard is also in attendance. Sperm whales are deep sea creatures, are the largest-toothed whales, feed on squid and octopus and can easily become disoriented if they get into shallow water.
Jeremy Littlewood, of UK coastguard, confirmed this was the sixth whale beaching. He said the beach would be cordoned off later on Thursday, adding: “It is obviously a very distressing scene and we would advise members of the public, for their own safety, to keep at a safe distance.
“We have informed the receiver of wreck and the Zoological Society of London,” he said.