Dozens of whales dead in huge mass stranding on Orkney beach

By Megan Bonar & Rob Flett, BBC Scotland News

BBC Whales stranded on a beach in OrkneyBBC

Many of the whales are dead but rescue efforts are under way

Dozens of pilot whales have washed ashore on a beach in Orkney in what could be the biggest mass stranding of whales in Scotland for decades.

It is estimated there are more than 70 animals out of the water at Tresness Beach on the island of Sanday, but assessments are still taking place.

It includes male whales up to seven meters (22ft) long as well as females, calves and juveniles.

Most of the whales are dead but efforts to identify which of the mammals are still alive and can be saved are under way.

Experts say it is too early to know what has caused the stranding, but it is likely one of the whales got into trouble and the rest of the pod tried to help.

Members of the public are being asked to stay away from the area while assessments take place.

Early indications suggest it could be the largest stranding event in Scotland since at least 1995, when the the Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme (SMASS) was founded – though strandings of a similar scale have been seen in recent years.

Last year an entire pod of 55 pilot whales died following a stranding on Lewis.

Only 15 of whales were alive when they were washed ashore. One was successfully re-floated while the rest had to be euthanised.

Between 60-70 of the animals came into shallow waters in Sutherland in 2011.

According to the Natural History Museum, the largest UK stranding took place in 1927 when 126 out of more than 130 false killer whales died in the Dornoch Firth in the Highlands.

‘Hugely emotional’

Emma Neave-Webb from British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) said the latest stranding was a “big, big incident”.

She told BBC Scotland News: “There are whales everywhere. There’s a long line of them, some of them are still alive.

“I know from experience how difficult these incidents are and I think we need to be realistic.”

BDMLR medics are being brought in from mainland Orkney and Inverness to help with the rescue attempt, but Ms Neave-Webb said it is unlikely many will be saved.

“We will do our utmost best obviously but they have been here for quite some time so I think we have to be slightly pragmatic about it,” she said.

Ms Naeve-Webb described the scene on Tresness Beach as “really quite horrible” and “hugely emotional”.

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