Fin whale dies after being beached on Cork sandbank


A MAGNIFICENT 20m (65ft) long fin whale died yesterday on a west Cork beach despite a major rescue effort after it became trapped on a sandbank.

The second-largest animal on earth after the blue whale, the massive fin whale was spotted by members of the local RNLI station based in Courtmacsherry at about 8am. A frantic rescue operation was immediately put in place.

The whale was pronounced dead by the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) at about 11.30am.

Hundreds of people descended on the west Cork beach yesterday morning to lend a hand to the rescue operation. They were still arriving in their droves over the course of the afternoon to see the massive mammal.

Michael Hurley, of the Courtmacsherry Lifeboat, spotted the young whale on a large sandbank north of the lifeboat station through his binoculars and raised the alarm. “His tail was up in the air, waving about, and he was very much alive at that time. I could see the spume of water being blown up. As time moved on, it became obvious he was getting more and more tired as his activity began to slow down.”

Mr Hurley said it was possible the whale had come in on the tide the previous night and been in the harbour all night.

“He may have been injured at sea. There is a score mark along one of his sides, as if he was in collision with a ship or a trawler which may have contributed to him getting into difficulty. The biggest problem now will be getting him off the beach as he has to be taken away to a rendering plant.”

Mr Hurley said the whale will probably have to be moved by the county council with massive cranes and slings, as he weighs about 15 tonne. The creature’s tail was 3.6m (12 ft) from tip to tip.

“He is probably one of the biggest ever seen in these waters. The whale and dolphin group know of 65 whales who have been sighted in the Cork harbour area, but he is not one that they have come across before.”

With people continuing to arrive at the beach late yesterday afternoon – where one enterprising local had set up a chip van – Mr Hurley’s biggest fear was for public safety. Those going out to see the whale could easily get cut off on the sandbank by the tide.

A whale that beaches in such circumstances has a very small chance of survival, according to the whale group, which had members at the scene yesterday. They usually seek shelter in coves and bays when they are injured and sick.

Padraig Whooley of the whale group and National Parks and Wildlife Service Rangers confirmed the whale was dead before noon yesterday, following examination of the corneal reflexes. He said the whale appeared to be in poor condition with bones showing through its blubber.

“This was to be expected as there have been many fin whales along the south coast of Ireland for a number of months now – and if one strands alive, the first reaction is to think it must be sick or in poor condition.” Mr Whooley said the whale group has been working closely with operators to record whales in the Cork harbour area through photo-identification. Under this technique, markings are recorded to enable the recognition of individual whales.

An endangered species, the fin whale can grow to 27m (88ft) in length, dive to 250m (820ft) deep and hold its breath for 10-15 minutes.