Yesterday (Thursday 24th October) we had members of the public reporting one, or possibly two, beached cetaceans at St Bees beach. When we headed down there we realised there was only one animal that had been moved by the tides so it had been mistaken for two different animals. Unfortunately it was dead, and possibly had been for some time and it was likely that the sea had washed the carcass ashore.
While it’s always sad to see such a thing, it also gives us a fascinating chance to get close to a creature we know is out there but never normally see. This was an adult harbour porpoise, probably a female. We are unsure of the cause of death. There were a lot of injuries to the face/beak but these could have occurred after death in the sea or on land. There were marks around the tail which could have been inflicted by a boat but, again, we have no way of telling if this was pre or post death.
As with any stranding we reported this to the UK Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme (CSIP). CSIP has been running since 1990 and is funded by Defra and the Devolved Administrations. They coordinate the investigation of all whales, dolphins and porpoises (collectively known as cetaceans), marine turtles and basking sharks that strand around the UK coastline. As well as documenting each individual stranding, they also retrieve a proportion for investigation at post-mortem to allow them to establish a cause of death. Strandings that undergo post-mortem examination provide valuable information on causes of death, disease, contaminants, reproductive patterns, diet and also useful pointers to the general health of the populations living in the seas around our coasts. This provides useful baseline data to help detect outbreaks of disease or unusual increases in mortality. The CSIP depends on the public’s help in the reporting of strandings around the UK.
Due to the fact that the animal had been washed quite far up the beach by the recent high tides we also notified Copeland Borough Council (the beach owners) as they may decide to remove or dispose of the body.