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30ft whale washes up on shore at Portstewart Strand

By Claire Williamson

Published 05/10/2015

Seagulls flock over the whale at Portstewart Beach on The North Coast on Monday morning. PICTURE MARK JAMIESON.
Seagulls flock over the whale at Portstewart Beach on The North Coast on Monday morning. PICTURE MARK JAMIESON.
Seagulls flock over a 30 foot whale at Portstewart Beach on The North Coast on Monday morning.PICTURE MARK JAMIESON.
Seagulls flock over the whale at Portstewart Beach on The North Coast on Monday morning. PICTURE MARK JAMIESON.
Seagulls flock whale at Portstewart Beach on The North Coast on Monday morning. PICTURE MARK JAMIESON.

A 30ft whale has washed up on the shore at Portstewart Strand.

On-lookers were fascinated and shocked as the huge animal washed up on Northern Ireland's North Coast on Monday morning.

Experts have said when the whale strands, its tongue blows up and can be seen protruding from the body.

Ordinarily the tongue "inverts" to accommodate all the food and water.

Suzanne Beck, a scientist with the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute explained: "It just blows up after it strands. It kinds of inverts during feeding to accommodate all the food and the water and whenever it dies, it inflates with all this gas after death and goes out like a big balloon.

"It does look a bit disturbing. But it's just all the gas that's gone into it and the nature of this tongue."

There has been speculation as to what species of whale it is and while initial reports suggested it could be a Minke whale - experts believe it could be a juvenile fin whale.

Ms Beck who is also studying for a PHD at Queen's University Belfast in cetaceans, said while the stranding was not overly rare, this sad occasion could be used for educational purposes.

The scientist told the Belfast Telegraph: "We would get a lot of strandings around the whole of the Irish and Northern Irish coast. The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group run a scheme where they record this and you can submit your sightings and strandings to them.

"Often when it happens in these popular locations, like Portstewart you would get an awful lot of attention. But in the west coast of Ireland where it's a bit more remote, a lot of these animals could be washing up and we just never know about it."

The scientist hasn't yet visited the beach so did not want to speculate on the cause of the animal's death but said a lot of the time it can be natural.

She said: "It can be based on current, where they are and they just wash into the shores like this.

"It would be quite difficult at the minute to say. I have heard reports that there might be a wound on the animal which I haven't seen, so I'm not sure. But also this could be after the animal has died and it bashed up against rocks.

"A lot of these injuries could happen after it died."

The task of removing the animal is quite a feat - and if it doesn't wash back out into the water there are several options. But while it remains a sad occasion, Ms Beck said it provides an opportunity for educational resources.

"These are massive animals and it's quite a feat to get these animals back out into the water. Sometimes people hope it will get washed back out with the tide and just naturally taken away and it will sink to the bottom of the sea and just provide food for the rest of the eco-system there.

"Or they can cut it up and put it out to sea.

"It could be a nice opportunity to bury this animal and get a whole skeleton and use that as a resource for one of the coastal zones or schools or anything.

"It's quite a tough job but it might be a nice resource to have.

"Tomorrow I'm hoping to go down and get some samples so although this is quite a sad occasion to see these animals die, it does provide quite a good opportunity for us to learn something from them - these animals are really hard to study.

"We don't often get this opportunity."

The National Trust have been contacted for comment.

Portstewart Strand July 1993: 31ft, seven tonne minke whale beaches

It beached during a low tide and despite the efforts of many who battled for four hours to refloat the beast, it died.

The beast's appearance sparked hysteria at the time with hordes of sightseers coming from far and wide with some intent on taking home a trophy.

Children were reported to have jumped on the whale's back, attempted to carve their names into the carcass and even poked sticks at its eyes and in its blowhole.

On two occasions the whale's tale was stolen. 

In the first instance it was chopped off and taken before being recovered.

It was then stored behind a hut when it was again stolen before eventually being recovered again.

Subsequently, the carcass was taken to the animals final resting site, a landfill site in Garvagh.

However, ahead of the postmortem of the animal, hysteria again grew with people concerned for the spread of possible diseases and wanted to witness - for themselves - the examination.

Only for the rain were the masses held off, with the result of the post-mortem showing the animal to be healthy prior to its death.

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