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Tests planned on Hunstanton whale after spate of deaths

Published 05/02/2016

A sperm whale washed up on the beach at Hunstanton in Norfolk
A sperm whale washed up on the beach at Hunstanton in Norfolk

Tests are to be carried out on a whale which died after washing up on a Norfolk beach in an attempt to explain a spate of recent deaths.

British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) said the bull died shortly after 8pm on Thursday. It had been stranded at Hunstanton since that morning.

Stephen Marsh, operations manager at the BDMLR, said: "We're very sad to confirm that the whale has died but it is a bit of a relief because it had been in quite a lot of suffering."

He added that work would now be carried out to establish the circumstances surrounding the beaching.

The whale is the 29th to have died after becoming stranded on beaches in northern Europe and the east coast of England.

Last month t hree dead whales washed up on the Lincolnshire coast and another was found at Hunstanton.

The Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme, which examines all whale, dolphin and porpoise strandings in the UK, is expected to take samples from the Hunstanton whale on Friday.

This could help establish what the whales, thought to have come from the same bachelor pod normally living off the west coast of Norway, were doing in the North Sea.

One theory is that the male whales could have taken a wrong turn while heading south to find females or been lured by food, Mr Marsh said.

Teams spent much of Thursday making the Hunstanton whale comfortable but said it was not a rescue attempt as it had little chance of survival.

High tide arrived at 2.50pm, engulfing the whale, but it was unable to move.

Even if it had returned to the sea, it was likely to become stranded again and would almost certainly die because of internal injuries suffered since coming ashore, the BDMLR added.

Mr Marsh said strandings can happen naturally and the recent increase might be due to a rise in whale populations.

"It will get more attention because it's a big animal but strandings do happen naturally, and we are just not used to seeing them as we decimated the population through whaling," he said.

"The females and calves stay in warmer waters and the males leave as they become sexually active and form bachelor pods. They will then go back to the warmer areas on an annual basis to mate.

"We don't know if they were trying to migrate down to the tropics, but there's no sign yet of any man-made activity that would cause them to come in, but that is being investigated."

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