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Dozens of whales die in mass stranding on Orkney Islands beach

Dozens of whales die in mass stranding on Orkney Islands beach

Image description, Many of the whales are dead, but rescue efforts are underway

  • Author, Megan Bonar and Rob Flett
  • Role, BBC Scotland News

A pod of 77 pilot whales has washed ashore on a beach in the Orkney Islands. It could be the largest mass stranding in decades.

Whale and Dolphin Conservation told BBC News that only 12 of the animals survived after emerging from the water at Tresness Beach on Sanday Island.

The herd includes male whales up to seven meters long as well as females, calves and young animals.

Experts say it is too early to determine the cause of the stranding, but it is likely that one of the whales got into trouble and the rest of the herd tried to help.

The public is asked to stay away from the area during assessment and rescue operations.

Initial indications suggest that this could be the largest stranding in Scotland since the Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme (SMASS) was established in 1995. However, strandings of a similar magnitude have occurred in recent years.

Only 15 of the whales were still alive when they washed ashore. One was successfully refloated, but the rest had to be euthanized.

In 2011, between 60 and 70 of these animals entered the shallow waters of Sutherland.

“Incredibly emotional”

Emma Neave-Webb of British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) said the recent stranding was a “huge incident”.

She told BBC Scotland News: “There are whales everywhere. There is a long line of them, some of them still alive.”

“I know from experience how difficult these incidents are and I think we have to be realistic.”

BDMLR paramedics are being called in from mainland Orkney and Inverness to assist with rescue attempts, but Ms Neave-Webb said it was unlikely many could be saved.

“We will of course do our best, but they have been here for quite some time, so I think we need to be a bit pragmatic about it,” she said.

Ms Naeve-Webb described the scene at Tresness Beach as “really quite horrific” and “extremely emotional”.