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Beached Fin Whale Dies

In the early hours of Thursday morning (Jan 15th, 09) a 30 tonne, 19.7 meter fin whale entered Courtmacsherry Bay and ran aground in about 6 feet of

water. At daylight local fishermen attempted in vain to free it. Initially it seemed quite strong, thrashing its tail fin (3.7 meters from tip to tip) and blowing water through its spout hole. However the tide was receding and eventually it died at about 11 am. It was a sad sight to see such a beautiful and powerful giant devoid of life. People milled around it all day, discussing its anatomy, the size of the tail, the human-like eyes. I overheard a discussion about the grill-like structure in its mouth. Somebody suggested it was its gills; 'but it's not a fish' said another.

Word went out among the children that it was not a fish at all but something called a mammal. Mammals were discussed. I heard someone say 'we are mammals, look, it has eyes like a person'. Someone arrived with a print-out on fin whales from Wikipedia. That sorted out the grill-like structure in the mouth; it was the baleen, used to filter food from the water. The Wikipedia article went down a treat. Real scientific facts were flying about. Fin whales are the second largest animal on the planet; its mouth could hold 15,000 gallons of water; it ate small fish and squid and krill. Squid became octopuse as the discussion progressed; nobody could give the difference between a squid and an octopus, so most people reverted to squid. Sucker-like marks on the whale's skin lead to fantasies about it being attacked by a giant octopus. The marks were there okay. Was it taking refuge in the bay after such a Jules Verne encounter? Some said that it was disorientated because of sonic boom from naval vessels seen off the south coast the day before; others said it was just ill as it was skinny and had not eaten for days and it beached to die. We will never know why it beached without an autopsy. Someone asked had a DNA sample been taken; nobody knew, but even to the non-scientific community this seemed like a golden opportunity to take one to help science understand these gentle giants all the more.

Conservation Status: Endangered Species.

Wikipedia - Fin Whale.

Text & Photo © Paul Whelan, 2009