Go to STV News

Stillborn baby sperm whale washed up on Scottish beach

It's the first time a neonatal whale has been found on any British beach.

By STV News

Published 31 Oct 2018.

The stillborn body of a baby sperm whale has washed up on a British beach for the first time ever - and will now be donated to a museum.

The carcass of the neonatal whale, which didn't survive out of the womb, was found on South Uist, Outer Hebrides.

Its skeleton, measuring 337cm long, will be donated to National Museums Scotland, in Edinburgh, due to its rarity.

Scientists believe the male calf was either 'aborted' by his mother, was stillborn, or died during birth - but the fate of the older female whale is still a mystery.

Volunteers from the Scottish Marine Animal Strandings Scheme inspected the corpse after getting calls about it and realised the significance of the find.

Mariel ten Doeschate, who works for SMASS, said: "This was the first time a neonatal whale was found on a British beach.

"The neonatal had never taken a breath - it never lived.

"It was either stillborn or died during the birth process, it was pretty close to the gestation period but may have had some weeks to go.

"Probably it was aborted or died during birth.

"We do not know what caused it to be aborted.

"We have taken samples - this animal never suckled, it never had the chance of getting ill.

"So we are hoping to be able to shed some light."

The discovery was unusual as female sperm whales usually remain in temperate and tropical waters rather than the colder temperatures of the North.

Ms ten Doeschate believes the mother whale is likely to still be alive, as if she had died during childbirth her body would have likely washed up near her offspring.

She added: "We were in a state of disbelief - it is so unlikely."

The young male was close to the size expected of a newborn sperm whale and the umbilicus was still present.

Examination of his lungs showed they had never inflated, showing the animal had never taken a breath, and bruising was found around the skull and scapula.

Further tests may help scientists to establish where the mother's feeding location was.

This year, a record number of stranded whales have washed up on British beaches, baffling scientists.

Advertisment