Concern has been expressed after a whale was washed up dead on a beach at Blackhall Strand, southwest Wexford.
The whale is described as one of the family of rorqual whales, the largest group of baleen whales, genus Balaenoptera. Rorqual whales include what is believed to be the largest animal that has ever lived, the blue whale, which can weigh up to 180 tonnes.
Reginald Hastings, who spotted the whale on the beach on Sunday morning, told The Irish Times he thought it might be a baby blue whale, or a minke, which is also of the rorqual family.
Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) sightings officer Pádraig Whooley told The Irish Times it was most likely to be a minke.
Mr Whooley said it was not unusual for whales to die or to be washed up, which was in the natural order of things. Whales tended to get caught in fishing nets or get blown ashore in storms, but he said the IWDG was concerned about numbers being washed up in recent times. Mr Whooley said more study into the area of “strandings” was needed.
The group has published a 28-page booklet on guidelines for the welfare of live stranded whales, dolphins and porpoises, entitled Face to Face with a Beached Whale.
This guide details how to respond to a live stranding, including details on how to assess and care for the animal. The booklet and other publications can be found at iwdg.ie.
Wexford County Council said it would be appraising the situation with the whale at Blackhall Strand.
Council communications manager David Minogue said the council regularly responds to reports of whales stranded dead or alive on the county’s coasts.
“Many times we help in refloating the whale if it is alive, and we often work with the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group and others to do this,” he said.
In the case of a whale being found dead on an isolated beach, the council often arranges for the whale to be buried. If a whale carcass is beached on rocks, it is “sometimes safest to let the sea break it up”.
“But in cases [where] the whale is dead on a public beach, we get a contractor to take the poor creature away and it is essentially rendered,” he said.
Coastwatch spokeswoman Karin Dubsky, who is based on the Wexford coast, said it was very important to check for signs of damage when a whale was washed up.
“If the animal had been hit by a boat or ship, it should show some damage. That would be important for checking and keeping a track of causes of deaths” she said.