Whale stranded in loch 'was killed by infection'

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The Independent Online

The death of a pilot whale who died off the Scottish coast was caused by an infection, a post-mortem suggested today.

The examination of the animal - one of a pod of around 60 to appear in the shallow waters of Loch Carnan in South Uist on Thursday - found "potential evidence of an infection" in the animal's melon, a fatty organ found in the forehead.

It also showed that external injuries to the whale were not enough to cause its death.

Tests showed the female whale was just coming to an end of a lactation and rescuers said they "hoped that her young calf would have been fully weaned".

The rest of the pod appeared to have disappeared from sight, rescuers said.

They now believe the pod were accompanying the ill member and that the infection may have caused it to strand.

They said similar wounds spotted on the other whales would heal naturally in time.

The preliminary post mortem was carried out by Dr Andrew Brownlow of the Scottish Agricultural College on the body of the pilot whale that was recovered from the loch last night.

Further tests are due to be carried out to find out the extent of the infection.

Dave Jarvis, of the British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR), said: "It appears that what has been witnessed is a group of these extremely social creatures accompanying an ill individual and that the infection may have caused this animal to strand.

"Despite an extensive search, there have no sightings of the remainder of the pod since last evening.

"Unfortunately, due to the increasingly worsening weather conditions, it has proved impossible to utilise a helicopter to assist in this exercise."

He said BDMLR medics on the Island "remain vigilant and on standby" in case the pod reappear, and thanked the Scottish Government and SSPCA for their help.

He also thanked islanders for their hospitality.

At the end of October last year, some pilot whales almost got stranded in the same sea loch. Less than a week later, 33 whales, believed to be the same group, were found dead on a beach in Co Donegal.

Pilot whales prefer deep water but come inshore to feed on squid, their main food.

Last week a pilot whale died after getting stuck in the Sullom Voe inlet in Shetland. Results from a post mortem examination are not yet known.