Whale Found Dead After Spotted Near Essex Coast

A whale found dead after a pod of the animals came close to the shoreline in Essex, probably died of starvation, an expert said.

Police officers were called in this week to help escort the 40 pilot whales away from the Essex coastline - but one was found on land.

Rob Deaville, cetacean strandings programme manager at the Zoological Society of London, said the 2.18 metre female long-finned pilot whale calf was found on a beach yesterday afternoon, and was thought to have died that morning.

The whale had stranded alive before dying on the beach.

He added: ``The necropsy showed that the whale was in very poor nutritional condition. No significant evidence of recent feeding was found (remnants of several small crustaceans and several squid beaks only).

``Various skin lesions were observed - some are possibly viral in origin, others may be a result of its general poor condition or time spent in brackish water in the estuary, as whales live in sea water.

``The most likely cause of stranding and death at this stage is starvation, although we are waiting for the results from follow-up tests, including several to determine whether the animal had an underlying infection.

``The Cetacean Standings Investigation Programme has been collecting data on cetacean strandings in the UK since 1990 (with information on over 12,000 individual strandings).

``In that time, only one long-finned pilot whale has been recorded stranded on the UK coast in the southern North Sea (a single individual in Norfolk in 1992), indicating how unusual this event is.''

Members of the charity, British Divers Marine Life Rescue, called police and coastguard when the whales were close to shallow water at the village of St Lawrence Bay on Tuesday.

They spent the day shepherding the whales to safer waters then monitored their movements throughout Wednesday.

The special branch marine unit used a high speed boat to reach the scene and with local boats managed to turn the pod back towards the open sea.

The mammals, which were believed to be following and eating shoals of herring, were later seen heading towards the shore between St Osyth and Jaywick.

At one point the helicopter descended to about 200ft to ``flag down'' a local fishing boat that was heading straight for the whales.

Pc Kevin Flinn, observer on the helicopter, said: ``We hovered between the beach and the pod and were able to move closer to them until they turned and went back to deeper water.

``The whales were about five metres long and in very shallow water and with the tide receding.

``There certainly was a risk of them beaching on the sandbanks but we moved them away from danger. The marine unit boat and other vessels then took over and escorted the pod further offshore.''

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