The young long-finned pilot whale calf found dead in an Essex river on Thursday probably died from starvation, according to preliminary results from a postmortem by a specialist at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL).
The 2.18-metre female was one of a pod of up to 40 whales that frequented coastal shallows in and near the Blackwater estuary and was seen feeding on herring earlier this week. Experts said they should have been in far deeper water.
She is only the second long-finned pilot whale, part of the dolphin family, recorded as stranded since the present reporting system for UK whale and dolphin strandings was introduced in 1990.
A case in Norfolk in 1992 was the only other one among more than 12,000, indicating just how rare this weekâ€™s events have been.
The calf had stranded alive before dying on a beach near the village of Goldhanger. Rob Deaville, manager of ZSLâ€™s cetacean strandings programme, said the whale was in â€œvery poor nutritional conditionâ€ with no significant evidence of recent feeding, although their were remnants of crustaceans and squid beaks.
â€œVarious skin lesions were observed â€“ some are possibly viral in origin, others may be a result of its general poor condition or time spent in brackish water in the estuary, as whales live in sea water,â€ said Deaville.
â€œThe most likely cause of stranding and death at this stage is starvation, although we are waiting for the results from follow-up tests, including several to determine whether the animal had an underlying infection.â€