A young minke whale, severely malnourished, that washed up on Lough Foyle outside Limavady has died.
First reported to DoE Marine Division on Friday evening after having been seen by local people, the minke was reported to be struggling the afternoon before.
“DoE assessed the situation and noted that the animal was an unweened calf about three months old and apparently separately from its mother. It was encouraged back into deeper water by Loughs Agency staff on Friday evening, however, given its separation from the mother whale, and its emaciated condition, DoE anticipated that the whale would not be able to survive alone,” a spokesperson told the Journal.
“The young animal restranded on Tuesday, 2nd June, and an examination has now confirmed that the whale calf was severely malnourished and had suffered extensive injuries during its several strandings.
“The animal’s carcass has now been removed from the shore by Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council. DoE Marine Division staff have been able to recover some bone material for scientific and educational use.”
Local man Brian McNicholl, who works with the Loughs Agency, was contacted when the whale was spotted on Friday by local people, including Paddy McCafferty.
“Paddy phoned me as he knew I worked with the Loughs Agency. I came down with my friend Liam Mullan and my son Cahir. I wasn’t sure what it was as it was caught in weed in an area which I know was the Ballykelly canal. The animal was clearly in distress and was struggling and was in pain,” explained Brian.
“It was not beached so it was easy enough to manoeuvre out of the canal and push it out in the outgoing tide. I knew this was a minke whale at this stage from the Riverwatch education programmes at the Loughs Agency. We were worried at the time as the tide was going out and the fear the young whale would get beached in this shallow inlet as part of Lough Foyle which drys out so, we pushed it out as best we could. It came to shore again and, once again, we put it out again.
“We waited for about 40 minutes to see if it came back and it did, further up the sea wall about 200 yards. We went around again and pushed it out again. I went out, as far as I could knowing it was deep enough for it to swim away.”
Sadly the whale died from its injries.
Paddy McCafferty, who was on scene on Friday, said: “It was absolutely beautiful. It was hard to see it in such a distressed state.”
The DoE spokesperson added: “Minke whales are the most common whales in Irish waters, with young animals born mid winter. They are not weened until six months old and remain with the mother for up to 3 years to learn essential social and foraging skills. The stranding has been reported to the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group and UK Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme. Despite local enquiries about any link with the pilot whale stranding event in Scotland, this is an isolated incident with no correlation.”