Subject: Sperm whale in Firth of Forth (fwd)

Michael Williamson (
Mon, 31 Mar 1997 08:24:48 -0500 (EST)

J. Michael Williamson
   Principal Investigator-WhaleNet <>
   Associate Professor-Science
   Wheelock College, 200 The Riverway, Boston, MA 02215
voice: 617.734.5200, ext. 256
fax:    617.734.8666, or 617.566.7369

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Sat, 29 Mar 1997 05:17:57 -0800
From: MARMAM Editors <marmamed@UVic.CA>
Reply-To: Marine Mammals Research and Conservation Discussion
Subject: Sperm whale in Firth of Forth (fwd)

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Fri, 28 Mar 97 13:32 EST
From: Russell Leaper <>

A male sperm whale was reported in the Firth of Forth (E. Scotland) on
20th March.  The whale was in a few metres of water close to the shore at
N. Queensferry.  Two divers entered the water close to the whale which
they estimated to be about 14m in length.  They saw no apparent injuries
and reported hearing regular click vocalisations.  After a few hours, the
whale swam off upstream through the Queensferry narrows which are about a
mile wide with a maximum depth of around 80metres.  Throughout Friday 21st
March the whale remained upstream of the bridges in depths of between 10
and 40m.  The whale maintained a regular dive cycle with dives of around
14 minutes followed by 10 minutes at the surface.  It also had a regular
blow rate of around one blow every 16 seconds.  Continuous acoustic
monitoring was not possible, but it appeared that the whale was making
regular clang type clicks at the surface.  The whale never fluked up but
frequently showed a side fluke at the surface on the majority of dives.
This was often associated with changes in swim direction.  Background
noise levels in the Firth were relatively high with several small vessels
and a number of larger cargo ships on passage to Grangemouth.
Construction work on the bridge supports may also have been creating noise
but this was not detected on the hydrophone.  It is very unlikely that
traffic noise from either the road or rail bridge had a significant effect
on underwater noise levels.  At the time there were unconfirmed reports of
three other whales a few mile further to the East.  There was speculation
that these may be sperm whales, but three humpbacks were later identified
in this area and it seems unlikely that there was more than one sperm
whale involved.

Attempts were made during Saturday to persuade the whale to head
downstream.  The plan was to have a line of boats moving slowly behind the
whale.  This effort was organised by Deep Sea World aquarium and involved
recreational boats, the police, the Forth ferry 'Maid of the Forth', and
tugs from British Petroleum.  The boats were co-ordinated by VHF and after
some initial confusion were well organised with the line of 9 boats
keeping a good distance from the whale.  Around 1800 the whale headed
downstream below the bridges and into the wider part of the estuary.  It
is not clear whether this was due to the presence of the boats but at the
time the boats were all in an arc upstream of the animal and so may have
had an effect.  The whale was again observed upstream of the bridges on
Sunday morning and remained in the area all day allowing a good view from
the shore which was packed with visitors.  Attempts were again made to
persuade the whale downstream but the whale swam underneath the line of
boats and surfaced upstream off Rosyth.  However, about 1700 the whale
headed downstream and continued through the bridges and past the Hound
Point terminal.  It got into very shallow water and became beached on Drum
Sands near Cramond around 1830.  The tide was well down by then and the
whale was lifted off by the flood tide at 2230.  There have been no
confirmed sightings of the whale since and so it appears that it may have
found its way to the North Sea.

The incident raises the obvious question of why sperm whales which
normally remain in deep oceanic waters come into a shallow coastal areas
and highlights the lack of knowledge of sperm whale movements in the North
East Atlantic.  There is also the question of what is the best response to
such incidents.  There has been some discussion in the past of the
effectiveness of trying to direct whale movements using boats, but no
definite conclusions.  The well co-ordinated and publicised rescue attempt
in this incident seems clearly preferable to the crowds of recreational
boats that might otherwise have occurred.

Russell Leaper
30 Ivy Terrace, Edinburgh, EH11 1PJ, UK

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