Tuesday 21 March 2023

Young whale washed ashore at Vlieland probably died of starvation

A file photo of a humpback whale. Photo: Depositphotos.com

A humpback whale which washed up on the beach on the Wadden island of Vlieland on Monday probably died of starvation, an autopsy on the animal’s body has found.

The whale was severely underweight and showed signs of dehydration, marine biologist Lonneke IJsseldijk told local broadcaster Omrop Fryslân.

IJsseldijk said the whale was only a few years old and may not have been experienced enough to source its own food.

‘Whales don’t drink, they get their moisture from food,’ she explained. ‘She was a young lady, weaned and supposed to find her own food. That is always a critical time in the life of a cetacean.’

The whale was spotted in late May by fishermen near Zeeland and then off the coast at Den Helder.

Humpback whales have been ‘exploring the North Sea’, Jaap van der Hiele of sea mammal rescue service EHBZ told NOS at the time. ‘A couple of years ago one turned up off the coast of Vlissingen and in the Oosterschelde. They are perfectly able to swim in shallower waters so they are not in danger,’ he said.

IJsseldijk is now in the process of examining the contents of the whale’s stomach and intestines. The animal’s skull and pectoral fins will go to natural history museum Naturalis in Leiden for further study.

Naturalis researcher Peter Kamminga said the dead whale was a ‘great opportunity’ for Naturalis. ‘We hardly ever get to study a dead humpback whale. The last time was 10 years ago when we examined humpback whale Johanna,’ Kamminga said.

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