Highlands & Islands

'Lost' sperm whale stranded in Ardersier may have had brain problem

Sperm whale at Ardersier
Image caption The whale was moved further inshore to allow for the examination

A "lost" sperm whale which died after stranding in the Highlands may have had a brain problem, a post-mortem examination has found.

The mammal was spotted on Tuesday morning in the Moray Firth near the village of Ardersier, in the Highlands.

It was buried on Wednesday after it was moved to farmland to minimise public health concerns, Highland Council said.

The burial followed a post-mortem by a team from the Scottish Marine Animal Strandings Scheme (SMASS).

Dr Andrew Brownlow, of Inverness-based SMASS, who was involved in the post-mortem examination, believes the whale made a "navigational error" which took it into the Moray Firth away from its feeding grounds.

The examination found that the mammal was in good health and had been feeding well, with evidence of squid beaks in its stomach, but not for the last seven to 10 days.

The post-mortem suggested there may have been a problem with the whale's brain but it is not known if this contributed to it straying into the Moray Firth.

Image copyright Garry Riddoch
Image caption The whale died near Ardersier, a village between Inverness and Nairn, on Tuesday

Dr Brownlow said: "With the exception of what we found in the brain it was a remarkably normal and healthy animal."

There was no evidence it had swallowed plastic and no sign of trauma or disease.

It is thought the mammal, a young male aged between 10 and 20, had become separated from the non-familial "bachelor pod" sperm whales of this age normally travel with.

'Solitary male'

Dr Brownlow said: "Juveniles of this age normally come foraging in non-familial pods with animals they are not related to but of a similar size.

"It's a lost boy.

"It looks like it has become separated because we do not expect a solitary male of this age up here.

"At this age they tend to be a lot more gregarious so it's got separated from the rest of its group."

The local authority liaised with Scottish Environment Protection Agency over how to dispose of the whale, which was 15m (49ft) long and weighed 20 tonnes.

Alan Yates, environmental health manager at Highland Council, said: "The council has a duty to dispose of carcasses resulting from whale strandings, and careful consideration in this case required to be given to the disposal options due to the close proximity of Ardersier village.

"The council are grateful to the local farmer for their cooperation and assistance in disposing of the whale and to the contractors who did a great job of moving and burying the whale in difficult circumstances."

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