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Humans and Pilot Whales; Compassionate Creatures?


Early morning of the 4th June 2015, 21 Pilot whales beached around Brogaig Bay on the Isle of Skye, Scotland. Sourcing the impetus for such mass stranding events can be a hard nut to crack. It is often not until necropsies have been performed, samples analysed and reports written that a satisfactory conclusion may be met. There can however be surface evidence, which may point loosely to a potential story, one which requires the back up of some hard scientific evidence, but nonetheless gives you something to ponder in the meantime.


Of 21 stranded individuals, 14 were assessed and released, 7 did not survive. Specialist veterinary pathologists from Scottish Marine Animal Standing Scheme (SMASS) and Cetacean Stranding Investigation Programme (CSIP) were on site to select samples and measurements in search of the nutcracker.


One of the first people on scene was a local crofter who, with experience of terrestrial animals, noticed an adult female was pregnant and her calf was still born. It was confirmed by the veterinary pathologists that she had serious complications and would not have survived.


The close social bonds of Pilot whales have been well documented. The entire group may follow a pod member which is unwell or injured into shallow water and so become beached despite their own relatively good health. The bonds between these animals appear to be unbreakable in such situations. The same instinct which could be interpreted as a form of compassion in Pilot whales was demonstrated all over the Isle of Skye and beyond. If only the high tide had flooded in with the insatiable force of offers of assistance from the local community.


After an initially successful release, animals were seen to re-strand on Staffin Island. Volunteers from British Divers Marine Life Rescue worked alongside a brigade of helpers throughout the day to support the stranded animals until the tide was high enough to guide them towards deeper waters where exceptional crew from Marine Scotland monitored them.


While there may at times be reasons to question the capacity for compassion of humankind and that of non-human species, the consensus on the Isle of Skye that day was in favour of the common good.


A sincere thanks to all who helped however they could. The survivors continue to be monitored by BDMLR.

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