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Revealed: What killed Holkham whale

PUBLISHED: 14:15 23 October 2016 | UPDATED: 07:57 24 October 2016

The fin whale which was has been washed up on the beach at Holkham. Picture: Ian Burt

The fin whale which was has been washed up on the beach at Holkham. Picture: Ian Burt

Archant 2016

There was speculation that the 40ft fin whale, which washed up between Burnham Overy dunes and Holkham Gap on Thursday afternoon died after hit by a ship.

Scientists examine the whale washed up on the beach at Holkham. Picture: Ian Burt Scientists examine the whale washed up on the beach at Holkham. Picture: Ian Burt

But today the Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme, which studies whale deaths around our shores, revealed the creature probably starved after developing a spinal abnormality.

Rob Deaville, the CSIP’s project manager, was among scientists who carried a post mortem on the young female whale on Friday.

He said: “We found that the 13m whale was in very poor nutritional condition, with the transverse processes of the spine visibly protruding along the rear part of the body and notable hollowing of the dorsal flanks.

“No evidence of previous entanglements or of fresh injuries consistent with recent ship strike was found, although we couldn’t examine the left side of the body due to the stranding position.

The fin whale which was has been washed up on the beach at Holkham. Picture: Ian Burt The fin whale which was has been washed up on the beach at Holkham. Picture: Ian Burt

“Abrasions on the underside of the keel and on the leading edge of the right tail fluke, together with the fresh nature of the carcass on initial discovery, were all considered to be consistent with recent live stranding.”

Mr Deaville added the whale’s body contained parasites and it was likely that it had died “within the last few days”.

He said the whale had a distinct kink in its body and a pronounced hump.

He went on: “When we dissected the ‘humped’ region, we found that the spinous processes of the vertebra were misaligned, illustrating the general misalignment of the spine.

The fin whale which was has been washed up on the beach at Holkham. Picture: Ian Burt The fin whale which was has been washed up on the beach at Holkham. Picture: Ian Burt

“The surrounding musculature on the right side of the body also appeared to be much more oedematous and reddened compared to that on the left, although this may be partly associated with live stranding.

“So to summarise, the evidence from the post mortem indicates that the fin whale had developed a spinal which had potentially limited the degree of movement and lead to the progressive wasting of the musculature and eventual live stranding and death.”

He said it was not clear whether the abnormality was congenital, or down to “an historical traumatic event”. He said the cause of death would be recorded as starvation, consequential to spinal abnormality.

Holkham estate said plans were in place to remove the carcass from the beach once the scientists had completed their work.

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