Vlieland friend was seriously ill: inflammation in lungs, brain and ears

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The stranded pilot whale is examined in the cutting room of the Pathology Depart
The stranded pilot whale is examined in the cutting room of the Pathology Department

The pilot whale found dead on Vlieland’s beach in early December was examined at Utrecht University’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. Investigations revealed that the animal was seriously ill and had inflammations in several organs. The adult female had meningitis and pneumonia as well as abnormalities in her teeth and hearing organs.

According to biologist Lonneke IJsseldijk of Utrecht University, the latter findings were a probable reason for stranding:

Whales use their hearing as their primary sense; to communicate, navigate and find prey. Then when there is inflammation in that, it can greatly limit the overall functioning of such an animal. Although the meningitis may also have disoriented the animal.

Seriously ill

In addition to inflammation in several organs, many parasites were also found in the griend, including in the gastrointestinal system. It can therefore be said with certainty that this was a seriously ill and weakened animal. It is still being investigated whether all the inflammations had the same or different causes. Thus, the researchers have cultured organ pieces and will perform several additional tests.

Fellow researchers from Wageningen Marine Research are additionally researching the diet of this pilot whale. The skeleton will eventually be exhibited at Ecomare on Texel.

This was the eighth stranding of a pilot whale in the Netherlands in the last 30 years. The last pilot whale, an adult male, stranded at Egmond aan Zee in 2018. Two earlier specimens were found in 2015: both had then suffocated in a flatfish.

Importance of stranding research

The Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at Utrecht University conducts stranding research to determine, among other things, the cause of death of stranded marine mammals. This is commissioned by the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality. The research focuses in particular on finding out the effect of human activity on marine mammals.

Marine health

There is strong support for research into the cause of strandings, both nationally and internationally. This is evidenced by the great public and scientific interest during recent strandings. By examining (dead) marine mammals, we can also learn a lot about the ecosystem in which these animals occur. Thus, we get information about individual animals, populations, but also about the health of the sea. Ultimately, stranding research contributes not only to a healthy ecosystem for future generations, but also to the protection of these intriguing marine mammals.