Remains of rare whale dissected by hand on beach in order to be preserved

Remains Of Rare Whale Dissected By Hand On Beach In Order To Be Preserved
It is hoped the skeleton of the whale will eventually be put on public display for educational purposes. Photo: PA
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By Gráinne Ní Aodha, PA

The remains of a rare bottle-nosed whale that is usually found deep in the sea have been preserved by a team of experts with the hope of eventually displaying it in public.

The body of a northern bottlenose whale had to be dissected by hand at the Co Down beach where it was found, before being treated and buried in order to preserve the skeleton.


The deep-sea creature was found washed up last month at Ballymacormick Point in Bangor – an area which is looked after by the UK's National Trust conservation group.

The area was closed to the public and several agencies were involved in removing its remains, including the PSNI, the North's Department for Agriculture and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency.

The Agri-food and Biosciences Institute and others were involved in collecting samples to learn more about the whale.



The National Trust has said the whale is to be preserved in the hope it can provide a greater understanding of the animals.

The skeleton has been buried at a National Trust site and will be excavated in a year or two, when it is hoped the bones can be displayed to the public for educational purposes.


Dr Jade Berman, coastal adviser for the National Trust, said they had considered removing the creature by sea and by air, but this “posed risks in allowing the animal to be removed intact”.

“After investigating options, it was decided that the whale needed to be dissected on the beach by hand and its skeleton removed to a National Trust property nearby, where it could be treated and buried for preservation.”

She said northern bottlenose whales are a deep-water species that are not usually found in Northern Ireland’s waters.

The same species of whale have being found in the Firth of Forth estuary in Scotland, the south-east of England and in Bantry Bay, Co Cork, she added.


“Questions remain as to how the animal found itself in our waters, northern bottle-nosed whales are usually found in the cold sub-Arctic waters of the North Atlantic Ocean at a depth over 500 metres, where they swim along the deep-water ridges to find their food,” she said.

“The whale’s stomach was found to be almost empty with no visible plastic inside.

“It is perhaps possible that it became ill and the other whale sightings might be part of the same family group who stayed with him in shallower waters.

“These whales are also particularly sensitive to marine noise and sonar which could have confused them.


“It is very sad to see such a beautiful animal come to an untimely end, so it seemed that the most respectful thing would be to ensure that we learned as much as we could about this species during the process of its removal from the beach.”


A team of professional taxidermists, led by Ingrid Houwers of Bangor-based group Houwers Taxidermy, was involved in the preservation efforts.

Ms Houwers explained the challenges – and even dangers – of working on such a large and unusual animal.

“We had to work quickly due to the biohazard nature of decomposition, the gases and fumes required us to wear full PPE and spotting each other to ensure everyone was completely safe during the process,” she said.

“We were able to remove all the flesh and blubber from the skeleton in two days.

“Only my team handled the biological material, bagging it up before National Trust staff removed it to be sent for processing into renewable energy, to ensure both their safety and the safety of the community volunteers who were managing foot traffic at the site.

“Due to the size and nature of this whale species, this was a once-in-a-career opportunity for our team, which included two trainee taxidermists.

“As an animal lover and as part of marine animal rescue teams it was an experience which had both negative and positive elements.

“It was terribly sad to see the whale had died but our job is to find ways to ensure we can learn from this magnificent animal that we would otherwise never be close enough to see.”

Ms Houwers added: “We can learn so much from an animal’s skeleton, how the bones have formed and how it articulates shows us how animals move, what their physiology is perfectly adapted for, whether it is jumping, climbing or swimming.

“By preserving this skeleton, I hope that it can remain on display for a long time for others to understand how these magnificent creatures are so perfectly adapted to their environment and way of life.”

Andrew Upton, countryside manager for the National Trust, thanked all the agencies involved.

“The rare and unusual nature of a mammal of this size washing up on our shores involved total commitment from our teams to ensure public safety and fast and efficient work to remove the whale in a respectful and safe manner,” he said.

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