Short-finned pilot whale. Copyright Georg Hantke

First recorded stranding of a short-finned pilot whale in the UK reported

A new study of a whale which stranded off the Pembrokeshire coast in 2012 has revealed it to be the first short-finned pilot whale ever to be found in British waters.  

The short-finned pilot whale, Globicephala macrorhynchus, is more frequently found in tropical to warm temperate seas and is not normally encountered in Europe north of the Bay of Biscay.  

The whale, which stranded on 1 March 2012 at Hazelbeach near Neyland, Pembrokeshire, was initially identified as a long-finned pilot whale, Globicephala melas. Long-finned pilot whales are far more commonly found in British waters and strand frequently. The two species are similar and difficult to distinguish based on skeletal remains.  

However, features of the Hazelbeach whale’s skull and teeth, described by scientists in a newly published article in the journal Mammal Communications, confirm that it is a short-finned pilot whale, the first found in British waters. 

Dr Andrew Kitchener, Principal Curator of Vertebrates at National Museums Scotland, where the whale’s remains are now held, said: 

“This is one of a growing number of examples in our collection going back to the 1980s of what we would normally think of as warm-water species being found for the first time in British waters. Others include striped dolphins, pygmy sperm whales and a Fraser’s dolphin. It’s important to develop our understanding of changing marine populations and their distributions, and the existence of collections and research facilities such as ours are crucial to building that understanding over time. This discovery means that we can no longer assume that every stranded pilot whale in Britain is a long-finned pilot whale.” 

Rob Deaville of the Institute of Zoology in London where the Cetacean Stranding Investigation Programme is based, said 

“The identification of this short-finned pilot whale in UK waters adds to the evidence of a clear trend of cetacean life being affected by climate change, part of a wider impact on our seas and oceans.” 

Alice Wyllie National Museums Scotland Press Office, 

Notes to editors

  1. About National Museums Scotland 

National Museums Scotland is one of the leading museum groups in the UK and Europe and it looks after collections of national and international importance. The organisation provides loans, partnerships, research and training in Scotland and internationally. Our individual museums are the National Museum of Scotland, the National Museum of Flight, the National Museum of Rural Life and the National War Museum. The National Museums Collection Centre in Edinburgh houses conservation and research facilities as well as collections not currently on display. 

2. Bheireadh Oifis nam Meadhanan eadar-theangachadh Gàidhlig den bhrath-naidheachd seachad do bhuidhinn mheadhanan bharantaichte. Cuiribh fios do dh'Oifis nam Meadhanan airson bruidhinn air cinn-latha freagarrach.