Friday, 31 May 2013

Mesoplodont Mystery

WARNING - the photos below are not for the squeamish, look away now if you are not a great gore fan!

We got a report of a cetacean down near Bunowen Pier at Ballyconneely last Monday night. We headed down the next morning to have a look. It turned out to be a beaked whale species. Unfortunately for identification purposes it was a female. Male beaked whales have distinctive teeth which greatly aids identification, however females lack these.
Our best guess is either a Sowerby's Beaked or True's Beaked Whale. There are only thirteen previous Sowerby's Beaked Whale records and eleven True's Beaked Whale records for Ireland so either would be quite rare. Some are leaning towards True's Beaked Whale but it may have to be eventually identified by DNA. It was 5.0m which suggests it was an adult animal. It's thought beaked whales (around 14 described species) mostly eat squid.
A team from GMIT/IWDG came out on Thursday and removed the stomach and intestines to examine the whales diet and also the head to aid identification. Again the photos below show part of the dissection which involved stripping off the blubber, cutting off most of the ribs with a large garden shears and the removal of the digestive tract. I've spared you the process of the head removal!

There were some recent strandings of True's Beaked Whales in Donegal, so to have this animal also stranded here is a little odd.
Alot of beaked whales have never been seen alive at sea and some species have only been described to science from a handful of stranded animals or washed up skulls.

Short piece about this stranding on the IWDG site here.

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