Stranded Minke whale had painful infection postmortem reveals

Postmortem carried out on Gorleston Minke whale at Whipsnade Zoo.

A postmortem being carried out on the Minke whale at Whipsnade Zoo. - Credit: CSIP-ZSL

A stranded Minke whale found at Gorleston was suffering from a painful spinal infection which would have limited its movement and made survival impossible, a postmortem has shown.

The juvenile Minke was found in the shallows at around 6.30pm on Monday and after careful assessment a decision was made to put it down.

Following an examination carried out at Whipsnade Zoo by the Defra-funded Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme (CSIP), cetologist Rob Deaville of the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) said pus-filled lumps on its vertebrae showed the calf had suffered.

Efforts to save stranded Minke whale calf Gorleston

An operation is under way to save a juvenile Minke whale in Gorleston. - Credit: Dan Goldsmith/Marine and Wildlife Rescue

"It wasn't doing very well at all," he said.

"The infection almost certainly was the cause of the live stranding so the decision to euthanise was the right one."

He said at 3.48m long the animal was only a couple of months old and still dependent on its mother.

"It would have suffered a very painful life," he added.

Minke whale stranded at Gorleston

A Minke whale found at Gorleston had a painful infection with pus-filled lumps found on its vertebrae a post-mortem has shown. - Credit: Dan Goldsmith/Marine and Wildlife Rescue

"For a diving animal to have fused sections of vertebrae would limit its movement."

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The examination also showed its stomachs were completely empty, suggesting that it may have been ill for some time.

Being "maternally dependent, sick and compromised" was a lethal combination he said, and while it was a sad event the capture of samples and data would help with research. 

From a scientific point of view it was "interesting" and "fairly unusual" the findings and samples helping to inform the body of work around the whales.

Follow-up tests are being carried out on the samples. 

The east coast wouldn't be the Minke's usual habitat, but with more up north around Whitby - enough to support commercial whale-watching trips - it was inevitable some would stray this way, Mr Deaville added.

The marine postmortem or necropsy was carried out on the floor because the Minke was too large for any of the tables.

Mr Deaville said they were usually performed where they beached on the sands but this animal just met the threshold for being able to be transported.

Every year, the CSIP receives around 30 reports of stranded Minke whales around the UK coast. Since it was set up in 1990, ten Minke whales have been reported stranded around the Norfolk coastline.