27/07/2006

Exclusion zone placed around whale

Police have set a 300m exclusion zone around a whale which has been stranded in Larne Lough in County Antrim for the past three days.

A spokesperson for the PSNI today said that any vessel venturing into the restricted area would be committing an offence, which would be brought to police attention.

The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) and the Environment & Heritage Service (EHS) have today said that the whale should be left to its own devices in the Lough, without intervention and to facilitate this, the EHS have discussed and agreed with the PSNI that an exclusion zone is to be declared and policed, around this whale. The PSNI will have a boat presence on the water to ensure that this protocol is adhered to.

The spokesman for the IWDG and EHS said: "This measure is being put in place, in the interest of both public safety and the whale’s welfare. We’d ask people who want to see this animal to bring your binoculars and to observe it from one of the area's vantage points. But please do not put your boats on the water to whale watch, as you are likely to make a difficult situation worse."

Yesterday, efforts from the rescue team managed to encourage the mammal into open sea, however the animal returned after being startled when two ferries left the port.

Further attempts to free the mammal have resumed today.

The spokesman said: "The whale, which we can now confirm is not a minke, but most likely to be a fin whale, failed to leave the Lough last night, despite being so frustratingly close to open water beyond the lighthouse at Ferris Bay.

"As we now enter day three of this unusual event, we are faced with an all too common, yet stark reality that this whale, as with most others that find themselves in similar circumstances, is not for saving."

He continued: "This reflects not so much on our ability to intervene to “save or rescue” the animal, but on its likely poor body condition and the underlying reasons behind this unusual event. The bottom line is that healthy whales, especially fin whales, do not in our considerable experience with this species off the Irish south coast, live-strand.

"Over the past two days, every effort has been made by those on the ground to prevent this whale from stranding on the mudflats and to coax it out to open water."

It is understood that this is the first record of a fin whale in Northern Irish waters since one stranded in Magilligan, Co. Derry almost 100 years ago in 1907.

Fin whales are the second largest animal on the planet, second only to the blue whale. Although this specimen is almost certainly a juvenile, it is estimated to be around 35-40ft in length and may weigh upwards of 15 tonnes.

Experts agree that no realistic human intervention is possible when dealing with animals of this size, in these situations.

He added: "This development will we hope ensure that any accidental (or willful) disturbance is kept to a minimum. IWDG, along with the EHS will maintain a presence in the area to monitor the situation, but will not intervene should the whale live-strand. The Harbour Master will issue a notice to all commercial vessels in the area alerting them to the situation."

It is understood that at this point the whale live-standing is likely.

This would enable the “care team” to assess its condition properly and decide on the best course of action, which may be to allow the whale to expire naturally or have a vet administer a lethal injection.

(EF/SP)

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