Vets from Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) believe that the ropes came from either active or abandoned fishing gear or creel lines.
Identified as ‘Lulu’, the adult orca was from the only pod of resident killer whales in the UK, living off the Scottish west coast. The small population consists of nine whales, dubbed the ‘West Coast Community’ and never interact with the migratory pods and never has a calf been recorded within the group.
This is the first killer whale the Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme (SMASS) team have seen entangled, however reports suggest an increase in the number of entanglement cases in other large cetaceans over the past year.
Commenting on the likely cause of her death, Dr Andrew Brownlow who led the post mortem, said: “We found convincing evidence that she had become chronically entangled and this was the most likely cause of her death. The deep wounds and abrasions we observed are consistent with 10-15mm rope, likely still attached to gear of some sort, wrapping around the tail and dragging behind the animal.
Photo credit: John Bowler
“Normal swimming and foraging would have been made very difficult and we suspect the animal had been entangled for several days. There was a lot of seawater in the stomach and we suspect she eventually drowned because of the entanglement. Although there were no ropes or fishing gear left on the carcase, the lesions are very similar to those we see from creel rope entanglement in baleen whales.”