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BALAENOPTERA PHYSALUS (LINNAEUS) H . MENDEL AND D . J. LAMPARD Following a report of a large whale in Harwich H a r b o u r off L a n d g u a r d Point, in the last week of August 1990, the Harwich H a v e n A u t h o r i t y w e r e called in to deal with a whale carcase floating in the H a r b o u r . It was t o w e d ashore at the Hall Aggregates ( E a s t e r n Counties) Ltd site o n Sunday 2nd S e p t e m b e r and identified as a M i n k e W h a l e , Balaenoptera acutorostrata L a c e p e d e (also known as Lesser R o r q u a l or Piked W h a l e ) by the p e o p l e working on the salvage o p e r a t i o n . By the time we got to the scene on M o n d a y the carcase had b e e n covered with shingle f o r public health reasons, but Mr. B. P r y k e of Hall A g g r e g a t e s kindly arranged for its h e a d to be uncovered so that we could check the identification. F r o m the baleen plates on the right-hand side of its jaw (white at the f r o n t and slate-grey f u r t h e r back) it was clearly a Fin W h a l e or C o m m o n R o r q u a l a n d not, as was first thought, a M i n k e . T h e Fin W h a l e is second only to the Blue W h a l e , Balaenoptera musculus (Linnaeus) in length and weight and large females may be u p to 25m long. In the Atlantic, Fin Whales migrate n o r t h w a r d in early spring and s o u t h w a r d in the a u t u m n . It is at these times that they are most f r e q u e n t l y seen in British waters o r f o u n d stranded. T h e timing would suggest t h a t this individual c a m e down into the N o r t h Sea o n southward migration and died, p e r h a p s after collision with a ship. T h e r e a r e very few previous reports of Fin W h a l e strandings in Suffolk and it is difficult to know precisely how many can be relied on. S t r a n d e d whales nearly always present identification problems and editors of p o p u l a r journals and newspapers o f t e n p r e f e r a best guess to anything implying uncertainty. T h e f a m o u s 'Harwich W h a l e ' found o n N o v e m b e r 5th 1816 'off the buoy of the Rough near Harwich' (Morley, 1932) and cut u p at D o w n h a m R e a c h o n the River Orwell was most likely a Fin W h a l e . It was reputedly a f e m a l e s o m e 21m in length and the w o r d s of a local poetaster, q u o t e d by Morley, indicate the disparity of opinion a b o u t its identification: 'Some say 'tis a young one, at most but half-grown Others think, from its size, it has young of its own: . . . Monster cetaceous, a Sea-Monarch hails: And all have agreed 'tis the wonder of Whales.' It might still be possible to positively identify this particular beast f r o m the w e a t h e r e d skull that hangs f r o m the ceiling of the Suffolk Geology Gallery at Ipswich M u s e u m . A dead 'Common Rorqual. B a l a e n o p t e r a musculus, Linn.' was washed ashore at Kessingland a b o u t 29th O c t o b e r 1899 and was 'identified by Mr. Southwell' ( R o p e , 1911). R o p e q u o t e s a c o n t e m p o r a r y article in ' L a n d and

Trans. Suffolk

Nat. Soc. 2 7 (1991)



Water' by the Rev. J. G. Tuck, 'The village of Kessingland was in a state of excitement, the whale having been cast upon the shore there and left high and dry, exhaling an odour which almost made the neighbourhood unbearable. The local authorities decided to cremate it, and this with some difficulty was at last effected'. Unfortunately Balaenoptera musculus is the Blue Whale and not the C o m m o n Rorqual (Fin Whale)! Morley (1932) repeats the contradiction and so the identity of the Kessingland whale remains in some doubt, although most likely it was a Fin Whale. In April 1918 another 'seventy feet in length with flippers 8'/2feet long and the plates of baleen white and slate-coloured, was stranded at Shingle Street' (Morley, 1931). Almost certainly, this latter carcase was the same one that came ashore near Aldeburgh, a little earlier, and was washed out to sea again by the tide. Patterson (1919), one of the sources for this note, provides interesting detail and comments t h a t ' a n affray with a torpedo destroyer' may have been the cause of death. This is the first positive Suffolk record of a Fin Whale. The recent Harwich harbour carcase was incomplete and had obviously been in the water for some time. Although the remains were about 7m in length, a large portion of the 'tail' section was missing so that it was very difficult to estimate the full length. Original reports that the whale was alive and dived w h e n ' H a r b o u r officials, thinking it was part of a ship's fender, tried to hook it out of the water' (Evening Star 4th September 1990) are probably mistaken. More likely, the carcase sank, although the possibility of two different whales can not be absolutely discounted. Diagnostic samples of baleen from the carcase have been preserved for posterity in Ipswich Museum. The Museum had hoped to acquire the whole head to be prepared as a skull, but bureaucracy got in the way. Contrary to popular belief, in the eyes of the law whales are not mammals but fish! Stranded whales are by a statute enacted in 1324 'Fishes Royal', the property of the Crown except where they are washed ashore within the limits of a Manor in respect of which the title to Royal Fish has passed to the Lord of the Manor. However, since 1913 the first claim to carcases has rested with the British Musuem (Natural History). Usually, a local officer of H . M . Coastguard or the Customs and Excise Department (acting as 'Receiver of Wrecks') will be involved at an early stage and make a provisional identification for the British Museum (Natural History). The police are also usually notified and at their discretion may inform the local musuem. In this instance the police in general and PC Holdaway in particular were most helpful. The old Department of Trade used to be responsible for disposal but it is unclear where that responsibility now lies. At the practical level, in the interests of public health and safety, local environmental health departments assume responsibility for disposal and, depending on where a whale is stranded and where it is to be buried, either or both district councils and county councils may play a part. In this instance, the Harwich H a r b o u r Authority was also involved and there were additional complications. It had to be decided whether a floating carcase dragged on to private land was a stranding and because this operation took place on a Sunday communications were difficult. In the event, even though

Trans. Suffolk Nat. Soc. 27 (1991)


Suffolk Natural History, Vol. 27

Hall Aggregates generously offered to bury the remains on a private area of Harwich Harbour land to 'rot down', none of the agencies involved were sure enough of their responsibilities to give the necessary authority. The carcase was deeply buried in a landfill site at Bramford and the skull was lost to the Ipswich Museum and Suffolk naturalists. Following the disappointing end to the Fin Whale episode we were well prepared when, on 6th February 1991, RSPCA Inspector D. Kell reported a suspected Bottle-nosed Dolphin, Tursiops truncatus (Montagu) stranding. Men working on the Aldeburgh sea defences discovered the animal as it was being washed ashore by strong waves. Attempts to re-float it with the help of the RSPCA failed, and in the end it had to be humanely destroyed. Dr. Thijs Kuiken of the Zoological Society of London's Department of Veterinary Science, working in conjunction with the British Museum (Natural History), was called to perform a post mortem examination and identified the specimen as a Striped Dolphin (also known as the Euphrosyne Dolphin). The Striped Dolphin is a common species worldwide in tropical and warm temperate waters, becoming less common in colder waters. It is a rarity in British waters although it may have been frequently overlooked, mistaken for the similar Common Dolphin, Delphinus delphis Linnaeus. Only four British Striped Dolphin strandings were recorded prior to 1966 (Fraser, 1974) and a further fifteen between 1967 and 1986 (Sheldrick, 1989). All previous strandings have been from the south and west coasts of the British Isles. This is a first for Suffolk and a first for the British North Sea Coast. The carcase has been acquired by Ipswich Museum and will be prepared as a skeleton in due course. References Fraser, F. C. (1974). Report on Cetacea stranded on the British coasts from 1948 to 1966. No. 14. London: British Museum (Natural History). Morley, C. (1931). Editor's footnote. Trans. Suffolk Nat. Soc., 1: 176. Morley, C. (1932). The mammals of Suffolk. Part 2: marine species. Trans Suffolk Nat. Soc., 2: 28. Patterson, A . H. (1919). Common Rorqual off the east coast. Trans. Norfolk Norwich Nat. Soc. 10: 505. Rope, G . T. (1911). Mammals. In: Page, W. (ed.), 1911. The Victoria history of the counties of England. A history of Suffolk. Vol. 1, pp 215-233. London: Constable & Co. Sheldrick, M. C. (1989). Stranded whale records for the entire British coastline, 1967-1986. Investigations on Cetacea, 22: 298. H. Mendel & D. J. Lampard, The Museum, High Street, Ipswich IP1 3QH

Trans. Suffolk Nat. Soc. 27 (1991)

Plate 1: Suffolk's first recorded Striped Dolphin, (p 6)

Stenella coeruleoalba — unfortunately a stranding (Photo: M. Allison)

Plate 2: Carcase of Fin Whale. (p. 6).

Balaenoptera physalus found floating in Harwich Harbour off Landguard (Photo: B. Pryke)

Suffolk's first Striped Dolphin, Stenella coeruleoalba and second Fin Whale, Balaenoptera physalus.  

Howard Mendel and David Lampard

Suffolk's first Striped Dolphin, Stenella coeruleoalba and second Fin Whale, Balaenoptera physalus.  

Howard Mendel and David Lampard