55 whales die after becoming stranded on Scottish beach

55 whales die after becoming stranded on Scottish beach
Photo: Mairi Robertson-Carrey - British Divers Marine Life Rescue

Fifty-five pilot whales have died after becoming stranded on a Scottish beach.

The whales washed ashore on Traigh Mhor beach at North Tolsta on the Isle of Lewis in the Western Isles at approximately 7:00am on Sunday 16h July 2023

Out of the pod, only 15 whales were initially found to be alive.

Efforts were made by the British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) to return one of the live whales to the water; however, it was later discovered beached further down the shore.

Subsequently, three more whales from the live group died, leaving 12 surviving whales, comprising eight adult whales and four calves.

After a thorough assessment, involving local veterinarians, the Coastguard, Fire and Rescue teams, and a forensics vet, it was determined that the shallow beach terrain and turbulent wave conditions rendered refloating the remaining animals unsafe.

Given the extended period the pilot whales had spent stranded and the unfavourable conditions, a decision was made on animal welfare grounds to euthanise the 12 remaining whales.

The Western Isles Council, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, advised the public to avoid the area as they attempted a cleanup operation.

The exact cause of the mass stranding remains uncertain, but it is speculated that the pod might have followed a female member who was giving birth, resulting in their beaching.

Given the strong social bonds characteristic of pilot whales, it is not uncommon for other members to follow an individual in distress, ultimately leading to mass strandings.

British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR)

The British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) stated that one of the deceased whales exhibited a vaginal prolapse, potentially hinting at the possibility that the entire pod’s stranding could have been triggered by complications arising from a female whale giving birth.