Killer whale dies after washing up on beach for the second time

Killer whale dies after washing up on beach for the second time
An orca in better times

A killer whale that found itself stranded on the beach at Cadzand in Zeeland died before a vet could arrive to organise a rescue.

The whale, known locally as an orca, had beached itself on a previous occasion but had been returned to the water with the help of volunteers. Nonetheless – for reasons that remain unclear – it returned, this time with a less fortunate result.

The emergency services at Cadzand contacted the specialist vet. Though it took him three hours to travel from Den Helder, the VRT reports that the whale was still alive when he arrived.

"Because it moved a few more times, there was hope," explained a VRT correspondent, who explained that helpers were considering whether it would be possible to get it into the sea at the next high tide in the morning. "Unfortunately, the animal didn't survive that long. The vet anaesthetised the orca and a little later, around a quarter to midnight, he died."

The resort of Cadzand is just over the border from Knokke, which is clearly visible from the Cadzand beach. But the vet, an expert in cetaceans who normally would be close at hand, was far away in Den Helder in the Dutch town of Den Helder, the northernmost tip of Noord Holland province. By the time the expert arrived in Cadzand, just over 300km away, the whale had died.

The whale came ashore on Saturday but was able to be returned to the water with the help of volunteers. However, for reasons that are unclear, it washed up on the beach a second time, and efforts to return it to the sea were unsuccessful.

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As with all whales, killer whales breathe air and must therefore come up to the surface. However, being completely out of the water effectively means they are crushed by their own weight. Having had a lucky escape shortly before, this whale was likely still exhausted and unable to cooperate with rescuers in returning to the water, where its weight would be buoyed up by the sea.

"It is really exceptional that such a rare species can be seen in the North Sea," Kelle Moreau of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences told VRT news.

"The closest orca populations live in the north of Scotland and in the Strait of Gibraltar. Those groups now number only a few dozen animals. In the southern North Sea, an orca has rarely been sighted, least of all in recent decades."

The whale will now be brought to the university of Utrecht for an examination to determine the exact cause of the incident, as well as the precise cause of death.

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