A sperm whale stranded on Hunstanton beach in the early hours of Thursday morning is now the 29th to have died on the shores of Europe since the beginning of 2016.
Kevin Murphy, a co-ordinator for the British Divers Marine Life Rescue, estimated that the whale was stranded on the beach as early as 3.30 on Thursday morning, four hours before it was reported.
Due to the size of the whale, it was impossible to move it. It was hoped that the whale would be able to launch itself back into the ocean with the midday high tide. However, speculators believe that because the whale had suffered internal damage when it was first stranded, this was not going to be possible.
Murphy explained why things were already looking bleak for the whale at midday: “within the first hour you have to have everyone here ready, and at the minute, with this species, there’s no set formula or plan because of the weight and size… if it was a 30ft minke you might be able to manoeuvre it out, wait for the tide, stay with it, but this is verging on impossible”.
At 15:00 the whale was submerged in water, watched from afar by a group of dog walkers, families, and wildlife enthusiasts alike, all of whom had travelled to Old Hunstanton beach to glimpse something that apparently only happens ‘once in a lifetime’, but which has already occurred in Hunstanton twice within a fortnight.
The general consensus from onlookers was that the situation was “just sad”. Murphy stated: ‘it is a bit heartbreaking to just stand by and watch an animal struggling… you know you can’t do anything, because anything that can be done we’ve already tried”.
The Zoological Society of London conducted autopsies on the whales stranded in January, and have said they will be returning to Hunstanton in the hope of finding out why this keeps happening. Toxins released suggested that the whales were dehydrated and starving. It is unknown why these animals are continually finding themselves in the North Sea, as their diet is largely squid, which don’t inhabit waters of less than 200m deep. Experts have suggested the whales may get confused by the shallower depths and lose their bearings.