Students hear a fishy story

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ANGUS College students enjoyed a novel impromptu lecture at the beach last week.

Students from the HND animal care class visited Arbroath beach on Friday morning for a practical lesson on whale physiology after one was discovered washed up.

Tayside Police were alerted to the discovery at around 8 a.m. on Friday and joined representatives from the British Divers Marine Life Rescue at the site close to Arbroath Artisan Golf Club.

The sei whale was found to measure 12.35 metres in length and 3.5 metres from tail to dorsal fin. It is a baleen whale, which means that it has a set of baleen filters which it uses to catch krill, it’s main source of nutrition.

Colin Glendinning, a guest lecturer at Angus College with a background in zoology, joined the HND class led by course leader Chris Ditchburn.

Chris said: “Colin came down with us and had a chat with the HND students. He was just really telling us about some aspects and physiology of the whale, how they breathe and how they sometimes come ashore to die.”

Colin discussed various attributes of whales and was even able to shed some light on the condition of the whale’s carcass.

He said: “We were speaking about these things and there were some abrasions on one of the pectoral fins, side and it’s fluke.”

Explaining it’s shiny appearance, Colin added: “I was pointing out to the students the whale looked polished. It looked plastic. It’s sand out to the Bell Rock. The whale had been dead and rolled along the bottom. It had rubbed along the sand like a coin in a tumbler.”

The students also learned about the massive amounts of krill needed to sustain a large creature like a baleen whale.

Colin said: “It was a good teaching opportunity. How often do you get to see a 40 foot whale on the beach? They learned about lots of things.”

Colin added: “Sei whales are one of the biggest species of cetacean, according to the people doing the post mortem it was a juvenile not up to full size, which is why I originally guessed it was a right whale.

“They were called that by whalers because they were the ‘right’ size.”

However, Colin said the cause of death would remain unknown until the results of the post mortem were released.

He said: “That whale was dead before it arrived, I’m pretty sure of that. Because they’re mammals they get viruses but I don’t know what it could be, it could be something toxic as well.”

Gareth Norman, from the BDMLR was also at a loss to explain the death. He said: “We are not sure because we are looking at identifying what they are from natural phenomenon and there are man made activities going on and try and factor them in.

“It’s not unusual for animals to beach if they are ill, it may be because the whale has expired naturally.”

Members of the marine stranding team at the Scottish Agricultural College in Inverness attended the scene on Saturday to conduct a post mortem, after which the carcass was buried at the beach.