Four sperm whales stranded on Lincolnshire beaches

Four sperm whales stranded on Lincolnshire beaches

Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust

Four sperm whales have been found dead on Lincolnshire beaches on Saturday, Sunday and Monday (23-25 January 2016)

The first three whales were found on the beaches at Skegness and Seacroft, the fourth on the inaccessible Wainfleet Marshes. All the animals were juvenile males. It has been confirmed that they were dead when they came ashore. 

The Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme have carried out autopsies on the whales at Skegness/Seacroft. It is hoped that this will provide an insight into why these animals were in shallow waters of the North Sea. It also provides a rare opportunity to learn more about these animals and how they live.

Sperm Whale Seacroft

Sperm Whale at Seacroft beach

Sperm whales are adapted to live in deep oceans where they can dive to depths of 3,000 metres. Female and young sperm whales remain in tropical or subtropical waters all year long but males travel further afield and are regularly seen around Iceland, Norway and Scotland. However, straying into the shallow waters of the North Sea, with an average depth of just 95 metres, can be fatal.

Sperm whales use sonar to navigate and communicate. They send out pulses of sound which bounce back of objects and surfaces allowing them to build an image of their underwater world. In the shallows of the North Sea, with a sandy seabed, it becomes harder for them to 'read' the sonar. They can quickly become disorientated and struggle to escape from, or feed in, the shallow waters.  

These tragic deaths follow a stranding at Hunstanton in Norfolk on Friday and a spate of strandings in Germany and the Netherlands earlier in the month where a total of 12 sperm whales have died. It is thought that the whales are all from the same pod.

Whilst it is understandable that people want to see the whales, the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust advises that nobody attempts to see this whale on Wainfleet Marshes; a former bombing range. There is no public access to the area and it is extremely dangerous with tidal creeks and the potential for unexploded ordinance. Many of the lanes to the marshes are private and not accessible. The whales at Skegness and Seacroft are not accessible from Gibraltar Point. East Lindsey District Council will arrange for the removal of the whales from the Skegness and Seacroft beaches. 

More information

Advice on what to do if you find a live or stranded marine mammal can be found on the website of the British Divers Marine Life Rescue or the Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme website.

Although sperm whales shouldn’t be in the shallow waters of the North Sea there are other species that do live in the North Sea, including harbour porpoise and minke whale. There is increasing evidence of the importance of the North Sea for harbour porpoise and Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust is campaigning for better protection for them as part of the Wildlife Trusts UK-wide Ocean Giants campaign.