Seven dead fin whales wash up on French beaches

The dead body of a fin whale which was found stranded on a beach in France, photo: Reuters/Stephane Mahe
The dead body of a fin whale which was found stranded on a beach in France, photo: Reuters/Stephane Mahe

Marine biologists are investigating the deaths of seven whales found washed up on France’s western shores. They show no signs of having been hit by a ship or caught in a trawler’s net.

On Monday, researchers used a mechanical digger and long knives to dissect a fin whale, the second-largest species of whale after the blue whale. They took samples they believe might reveal evidence of a viral pathogen.

“Usually, we find between three and ten beached whales over a year, along all the French coasts, including the Mediterranean,” said Willy Dabin, a researcher from the Pelagis Observatory. “And here in six weeks, we found seven of them.”

Dabin explained that their bodies were very thin, with healthy organs except for their lungs and hearts, with a lot of hemorrhage and congestion: “So it seems that they had difficulty feeding themselves to reach such a thin state.”

“We have what is almost an epidemic or, at any rate, a spike in deaths, which doesn’t seem to be normal,” he continued.

The most recent fin whale body was found on Friday near Saint-Hilaire-de-Riez. It measured nearly 16 meters and weighed an estimated 10 tonnes.

“The question lurking in the background is: are humans a contributing factor in their capacity to upset the environment?” Dabin said. “Either on the availability of food or on the production of toxins that would make whales more sensitive to some pathogens?”

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