The Saltburn Sperm Whale

In 2010 a forty foot sperm whale was washed ashore beneath the cliffs between Saltburn and Skinningrove. The whale had died at sea and been spotted floating around off Saltburn a week earlier. An artist friend of mine decided that he would like to try his hand at scrimshaw so went off to find the whale and collect a couple of it’s teeth. When he got to the whale it was in a fairly putrid state , he located the jaw and found that someone had already removed the teeth. Whoever took the teeth must have found it to be a fairly gruesome task as there was a small pile of vomit beside each empty socket. I visited the site a couple of weeks later. There was very little left of the whale, I managed to collect a rather battered vertebrae and a rib. When I got them home I placed the rib on my shed roof where it sat for the next few months leaching a pungent black fat onto the garden below, much to the delight of my terrier who found the stuff irresistible . The rib has stopped leaching fat and now sits, blackened with algae, on my kitchen roof much to the disappointment of my  terrier.

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The Redcar Sperm Whale 2011

Redcar Whale Redcar Whale 2

Strandings of sperm whales Physeter macrocephalus L., 1758 in the countries bordering the North Sea have been documented since the end of the 16th century. There is no clear temporal pattern in the occurrence of sperm whales in the North Sea except that there are very few strandings between the late 18th and early 20th century. All sperm whales of which details are known have been males, ranging from about 12 to 18 m in size. Most strandings occur during the period November-February. It seems likely that the majority of sperm whales enter the North Sea during their southward migration. If the animals do not find their way out in time, they become weakened and many will die at sea or become stranded. The North Sea can be described as a sperm whale trap, and multiple strandings mainly occur in the southern part of the area, where the coastal configuration is characterized by vast expanses of sandbanks, mudflats and estuaries. The large gap in the occurrence of sperm whales in the North Sea from the late 18th till the early 20th century may be connected with whaling activities over the last centuries, by which sperm whale numbers in the North Atlantic were considerably reduced. Sperm whales have been increasing again in the North Sea, particularly since the 1970s and, again, the 1990s, possibly as a response to a population increase following the decline and the end ·of whaling in this area.

Strandings of sperm whales Physeter macrocephalus in the North Sea: history and patterns by C. SMEENK. BULLETIN VAN HET KONINKLIJK BELGISCH JNSTITUUT VOOR NATUURWETENSCHAPPEN BJOLOGIE, 67-SUPPL.: 15-28, 1997  www.vliz.be/imisdocs/publications/235238.pdf

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