A massive sperm whale was laid to rest in a landfill recently after being transported from its stranding site in the bed of a tractor-trailer -- an odd sight for any Scottish drivers on the road at the time.
The whale stranded on Portobello Beach in Edingburgh, Scotland last weekend. Because this monstrous cetacean was so big -- weighing 28 tons and measuring 45 feet long -- it was logistically difficult to bury and necropsy on site, and had to be transported away.
Original reports attributed this whale's death to boat strikes, but there was "no evidence" of this, Dr. Andrew Brownlow, the Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme's Veterinary Investigation Officer, said in an email to The Huffington Post. "The 'cuts' previously identified by others were in fact normal anatomical grooves which had abraded so they looked like traumatic lesions," he said. Toxicology, DNA and diet analysis samples taken at the necropsy lent no evidence of "anthropogenic trauma" or disease.
Instead, the whale likely followed food into the North Sea and became disoriented in shallow waters, Brownlow told the Scottish Agricultural College. The North Sea is considered to be a "whale trap" for sperm whales, since it's too shallow for squid -- their main prey -- and hard to navigate out of, according to the Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme.
Once in these shallow waters, the whale died from the pressure of its own weight crushing its organs and tissue. "This usually, and for welfare reasons thankfully, causes the animal to die quite quickly," Brownlow told HuffPost. "Even if animals this size are refloated on the following tide, crushed muscles groups begin a cascade of pathological processes which invariably lead to its death. It is similar to compartment syndrome in human trauma cases."
Sperm whales are distributed throughout the world's oceans from tropical waters to the edge of pack ice at the poles, according to NOAA. They have the largest-known brain size of any animal, though it's considered small in relation to their massive body size. Following centuries of targeted whaling for oil and ambergris, sperm whales are listed as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
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