Beached narwhal investigated in Belgium

This 2012 video says about itself:

A narwhal‘s tusk makes it weird among whales. It’s actually a tooth that can reach 10 feet in length, and scientists have numerous theories about its powers and purpose.

From the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences:

Narwhal in the River Scheldt Probably Died of Starvation


by Sigrid Maebe

On 27 April 2016, a dead narwhal was found in the river Scheldt, near the sluice of Wintam (Bornem). The autopsy revealed that the animal probably died of starvation. The narwhal is an arctic species that has never before been observed in Belgium.

An autopsy was carried out on the stranded narwhal in a joint effort by scientists of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences (RBINS), the University of Ghent and the University of Liège.

The advanced state of decomposition makes establishing a cause of death difficult. However, no traces of a ship collision were present. The emaciated condition and the out of range position (more than 100 km away from the sea, and many thousands of km from its home range), indicates a natural process of starvation. Narwhal normally eat fish, crustaceans and cephalopods.

No food remains were found in its stomach or intestine, but, in the stomach, a number of small plastic items and small pieces of eroded driftwood were found. These items are very common in the river Scheldt and are concentrated in certain areas. Their presence in the stomach of the narwhal would indicate that the dying animal had swallowed them in the river and not at sea. We speculate therefore that it had swum up the river, and had died there shortly afterwards. The autopsy also revealed a heart condition and possibly also a thyroid problem. Several examinations and tests have started, including genetic and parasite analyses.

The stranded narwhal was a juvenile male with a (body) length 3,04 m long and a girth of 1,81 m. The tusk protruded 0,7 m out of its body (it can be 3 m long in adult males). The narwhal weighed 290 kg which is more than 150 kg too light for an animal of this length.

This is the first record of a narwhal in Belgium. Only a handful of observations and strandings are known in Europe, including an animal that was killed in the (former) Zuiderzee (The Netherlands) in 1912. Narwhals usually stay north of the 70° North latitude, and their home range includes arctic waters of Russia, Greenland and Canada. This is probably the most southerly record from Europe.

The skeleton of the narwhal will be prepared, and will be taken up in the collection of RBINS. RBINS would like to thank all persons involved in the discovery, securing, transportation and study of this exceptional animal that was discovered in a very unusual location.

Narwhal found, first for Belgium

Narwhal found in Belgium, photo by Bornem local authority

Translated from NOS TV in the Belgium:

Unique find: Arctic narwhal washed ashore in Belgium

Today, 12:59

Two Belgian hikers have made a unique discovery at a lock in the Scheldt: a narwhal. Never before an individual of this arctic marine mammal species had been found in Belgium.

Normally, this toothed whale with its distinctive tusk lives only in the polar seas around Canada and Greenland. There is only one known case in the Netherlands, in 1912.

Belgian experts say that this specimen also has a Dutch side, as he must have swum through Dutch waters to Belgium.


The animal, a young male 2 meters long and 290 kilos, had, given the state of decomposition, probably been dead for two or three weeks. The skeleton will be included in the collection of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences.

An expert of the museum believes that the persistent north wind may have blown the animal, also called sea unicorn, off course. “The day before yesterday there was already a bottlenose dolphin washed ashore in Ostend. That had not happened since 1990.”

How the animal progressed so far on the Scheldt river (even beyond Antwerp) is still a mystery. The experts call it unlikely that the animal drifted upstream while dead, but there were no reported sightings of a living narwhal in the busy shipping area.

Extinct whale’s tooth discovery on Australian beach

This video says about itself:

19 January 2015

In this short animation, produced for primary school children by Green.TV, supported by the Wellcome Trust, we look at the remarkable evolution of the whale from a land-based dog-like animal to the marine mammal that became the world’s largest ever creature.

From the Times of India:

Extinct whale’s 1 foot long tooth found on Australian beach

Subodh Varma | TNN | Apr 22, 2016, 04.21 PM IST

NEW DELHI: An Australian fossil enthusiast discovered a giant tooth of an ancient sperm whale that used to roam the seas five million years ago, munching up fish and even other whales. Murray Orr discovered the tooth at a beach at Beaumaris Bay near Melbourne, known for its vast trove of fossils. Orr immediately donated the fossil to Museum Victoria for further study.

The fossilised tooth is 30 centimetres (one foot) long and weighs three kilograms. This makes it larger than that of a Tyrannosaurus rex.

“After I found the tooth I just sat down and stared at it in disbelief,” Murray Orr said after the find was announced on Thursday by Museum Victoria, reports AFP.

“I knew this was an important find that needed to be shared with everyone.”

After studying the giant tooth, Museum Victoria said that it came from an extinct species of “killer sperm whale” which would have measured up to 18 metres (60 feet) in length and weighed some 40,000 kilograms.

“Until this find at Beaumaris all fossils of giant killer sperm whales were found on the west coast of South and North America,” Erich Fitzgerald, a paleontologist at the museum, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

The museum said the tooth dates from the Pliocene epoch of some five million years ago and it was larger than those of sperm whales living today.

It is thought that these extict killer sperm whales deployed their massive teeth to munch on large animals, including fellow whales, unlike today’s sperm whales that eat a diet of squid and fish.

“If we only had today’s deep-diving, squid-sucking sperm whales to go on, we could not predict that just five million years ago there were giant predatory sperm whales with immense teeth that hunted other whales,” Fitzgerald said in a statement, AFP reported.

“Most sperm whales for the past 20 million years have been of the whale-killing kind. So, the fossil record reveals the living species to in fact be the exception to the rule, the oddball of the sperm whale family.”

Two sperm whales saved from stranding

This 2 April 2016 video from Breskens in Zeeland province in the Netherlands shows a sperm whale swimming and blowing.

Translated from RTL TV in the Netherlands today:

Two sperm whales have been successfully returned to sea this morning, after they had been seen in the Westerschelde estuary between Vlissingen and Breskens.

Volunteers of the lifeboat organisation KNRM and Rijkswaterstaat with their boats made a funnel on the water so that the sperm whales could only swim towards the sea. “The operation was successful. The sperm whales are off Cadzand,” said a spokesperson for Rijkswaterstaat.

England: East coast sperm whales stranding investigation continues: here.

Smallest beached Texel sperm whale was 19 years old

This video from the USA says about itself:

Jonathan Bird’s Blue World: Sperm Whales

12 March 2013

The Sperm whale holds many records. It is the deepest-diving whale on Earth, the largest toothed whale on Earth and has the largest brain on the planet too. On top of that, it has a reputation for being a vicious beast, thanks in part to Herman Melville‘s Moby Dick. But the real Sperm whale is a lot different than people think.

It has a highly-evolved social life, operates at depths where nobody can see them most of the time, and uses sonar which is so sophisticated that it makes the Navy’s electronics look like toys. Sperm whales are very hard to find and even harder to film. In the Caribbean, Jonathan repeatedly attempts to get close to the elusive whales, until finally he succeeds and has an incredible experience eye to eye with a giant who investigates him with powerful sonar clicks.

Translated from Ecomare museum on Texel island in the Netherlands:

Smallest sperm whale was 19 years old – 23-03-2016

The five sperm whales which stranded last January near beach post 12 along the Texel coast were young males, which was already known.

Of one of the dead animals the exact age has been determined. In a sawed off tooth of the sperm whale researchers counted 19 rings. Although it was the smallest animal, only 9.6 meters long, is not sure if it was the youngest whale. The length and the age of sperm whales do not always correspond simply. The teeth of the other animals will be examined later.

Other research continues as well.

The jaw of this 19-year-old male is now in Ecomare museum.

Scottish Orkney islands whale watching

This video from Scotland says about itself:

4 December 2014

Orkney is home to a rich variety of flora and fauna all year round. We are perhaps best known for our seabirds and seals, but there are many more species here, including many other birds, the tiny but very elusive Orkney vole and the even tinier Primula scotica.

By Peter Frost in Britain:

The Orkney call to eco whale-watchers

Friday 18th March 2016

PETER FROST is off to an archipelago full of spectacular vantage points for a highly rewarding observation of its rich wildlife from puffins to whales and its ancient history

New Zealand, Australia, New England and California are just a few places advertising themselves as holiday destinations at the moment. Most of them make great play of the fact that you can watch whales as part of your holiday.

In fact you don’t need to go that far, or spend anywhere near as much money, if you want to make whale spotting a main theme of your break.

Many of us, I am sure, have had our interest in whales sharpened by the tragic strandings of five huge sperm whales in Norfolk and Lincolnshire early this year.

There are whales in waters around the British Isles and thats why I’m planning to go back to Orkney this summer, where I fully expect to see some whales and other sea mammals as well as other, just as exciting, wildlife.

Orkney is a great holiday destination, fabulous scenery, a rich history from pre-historic tombs, Stone-Age villages to memories of the last two world wars.

There is a rich cultural heritage with Orcadian fiddle music being famous around the globe.

Add to that amazing seabirds like puffins and gannets, seals, otters, even leatherback turtles and so much more to see.

Best of all are the cetaceans, the whales, dolphins and porpoises that are so often seen, not from special and expensive whale-watching boats but from the headlands and inter-island ferries.

More and more conscientious nature lovers are trying to do their whale-watching from the shore rather than the sometimes huge fleets of boats that can so often cause distress to whales.

Most spectacular of these Orkney sightings have been of killer whales. I’ve seen there a pod of killer whales or orcas, which happens several times most years — in fact 90 per cent of such sightings in Britain are off Orkney and Shetland.

The so called killer whale isn’t actually a whale at all. It is a large and truly spectacular member of the dolphin family. Orcas can measure up to 9.7m (32 feet) in length. They are easy to recognise by their distinctive black and white markings.

This awe-inspiring ocean predator lives in social groups called pods with the oldest female taking the lead role.

Pods with up to 150 animals have been spotted off Orkney.

They mainly hunt for fish including herring and mackerel but also snatch seals and porpoises, often seen throwing their prey up in the air.

The best time to see them around Orkney is between May and September although they are present all year round.

Other common whale sightings in the area are of the most numerous baleen whale, the minke whale. These marine mammals, with plates and sieve-like hairs in place of teeth, can reach up to 8.5m (28 feet) and are slender with a central ridge and a small dorsal fin. The hotspots to see minkes are the coastal waters around headlands and smaller islands.

Other, rarer whales which have been Orkney visitors include the pilot whale, sperm whale, humpback whale, fin whale, sei whale and very rarely the biggest animal ever to appear on our planet, the blue whale.

A 50-foot sperm whale appeared in shallow water near Kirkwall Pier in October a year or so ago. It remained there for some time before heading out to deeper water.

Huge whales are sometimes washed ashore during storms and often when already dead. Sometimes they perish on the beach as refloating them is near impossible and rarely can they escape to deeper waters.

In days past a whale stranding was a cause of celebration as it meant a large source of food, oil and bone. Huge pods of pilot whales would mysteriously beach themselves and people would come from all over the islands to harvest the unexpected bounty.

In earlier times whales were driven ashore by islanders. Many Orcadians joined the whale fishing fleets to Iceland and Greenland in the 18th and 19th centuries and later crewed the British whaling steamers that caused such destruction to Antarctic whale populations.

Now in Orkney the appearance of the whale is heralded as a good omen for eco-tourism, rather than food or whale oil.

The Stromness Museum on Orkney displays the rich story of Orcadian whalers with the artefacts including scrimshaw — carved and elaborately engraved whale ivory.

For the best whale-watching, I would recommend Cantick Head on the island of Hoy, Noup Head on the island of Westray and North Hill on the tiny island of Papa Westray. The latter can be reached by the world’s shortest scheduled flight that takes two minutes.

Do remember Orkney isn’t an island but an archipelago known by the collective name Orkney. The locals will quickly correct you if you refer to their home as the Orkneys. Each island in the group has its own name and its own unique character.

Wren and sperm whale on Texel island

Wren on tree, 8 March 2016

After 7 March 2016 on Texel island came 8 March. When we saw this wren in the forest.

Earlier, east of Den Hoorn, a skylark flying and singing.

Near the Novalishoeve farm, a flock of jackdaws.

A greenfinch.

In the forest, a song thrush sings. A great tit.

A chaffinch sings.

Wood ear fungi on a fallen branch.

We arrive at Ecomare museum, and at their animal rehab center.

In the birds’ center at the moment mainly gannets. And one great cormorant. Other injured or sick birds brought to the center include herring gulls, lesser black-backed gulls, razorbills and guillemots.

In the harbour porpoise pool there are two porpoises. They beached when they were still very young, unable to survive in the North Sea not having learnt so from their mothers. In the pool they get herring and capelin fish.

Common seal, Ecomare, 8 March 2016

In the harbour seal rehab pools, some animals looked relaxed.

Finally, the new whale hall. Paid for by the sperm whale beached in December 2012 on Razende Bol islet near Texel. That whale turned out to have much valuable ambergris in its entrails. The ambergris meant enough money for a hall, big enough for the skeletons not only of the sperm whale, but also of the humpback whale beached also on Razende Bol a few days earlier; and of a killer whale.