UK whale deaths: What could have caused the strandings?

The six stranded whales are thought to have been from the same pod Credit: .

Six sperm whales have washed up on British shores in the last fortnight in a series of events that has left questions over how the marine mammals succumbed to such a fate.

Two of the six males were discovered beached on the shores of Hunstanton in Norfolk, with the others found in Skegness and Wainfleet in Lincolnshire, in a saddening and shocking mass death.

  • What could have caused the strandings?

Currently there has been no formal explanation given for this weekend's strandings but according to one expert navigational issues relating to the whales' sonar could have played a part.

Dr Peter Evans, Director of the Sea Watch Foundation, said as the waters near where the creatures were found are "typically shallow" it is possible the creatures may have found themselves unable to use their sonar to get back to safety after swimming into trouble.

He said: "The waters off East Anglia and the nearby southern North Sea coasts of The Netherlands and Germany are typically shallow (frequently less than 20 metres depth) and gently sloping and thus difficult for the whales to find navigational cues.

"They would typically use sonar signals to find their way out of such situations but the shallow waters and nearby sloping mud and sand banks, which make up the geography of these areas, is not ideal for them and can cause difficulties as is probably the case here."

The six whales were found along the same stretch of coastline Credit: ITV News
  • Why would multiple whales have become stranded in close proximity?

Dr Evans said the close proximity of the strandings and the narrow time frame between them may indicate that they were responding to distress calls from each other when they ran into difficulties.

Whales normally keep in strong contact with one another by sonar, and it is possible that as a result, here they have responded to distress signals from one other which then has led to part of the group stranding together.

Dr Peter Evans, Sea Watch Foundation
  • Have there been mass strandings like this in Europe before?

Yes, according to Sea Watch Foundation there have been at least three notable multiple strandings off the North Sea coast in the past decade.

  • 6 animals at Cruden Bay, Grampian in 1996

  • 16 animals at Rømø, Denmark in 1996

  • 13 animals at Rømø, Denmark in 1997

The animals are thought to have died at sea Credit: ITV News Calendar
  • What should you do if you see a stranded whale?

According to the Defra supported investigative body 'UK cetacean strandings investigation programme' how you deal with a stranding depends on the condition of the animal involved.

  • Live Strandings - telephone authorities to let them know and if the weather is hot keep the animal cool and wet and avoid pouring water near the blowhole. Do not pull the animal by its tail or fins and stay clear of the tail.

  • Dead Strandings - report the discovery to authorities giving a clear description of location, species if known, overall length and condition of the animal ie. fresh; slightly decomposed; moderately decomposed; advanced decomposition.

You can also contact the CSIP team on 0800 652 0333 for further advice if you see a stranding.