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Gerry Turley's Drawings of a Dead Whale

Yesterday we heard the desperately sad news that a humpback whale had been beached near the Torness nuclear power station in Scotland. My partner, Gerry Turley who has a passion for drawing whales, jumped in the car and got there just as the veterinary pathologist from the Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme had finished their necropsy.

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An excerpt from BBC Scotland News:

‘A humpback whale was entangled in rope for "weeks, if not months" before it drowned off the coast of East Lothian, a post-mortem examination has found.

The young male, which was about nine metres long (30ft), was found at John Muir Country Park, near Tyningham.

Experts said the marine mammal had become very weak and had the most parasites they had ever seen. The whale was towed out to sea and moved to another beach for the five-hour necropsy on Wednesday

Gerry had about half an hour to sketch before the whale was taken away to be incinerated.

Gerry had about half an hour to sketch before the whale was taken away to be incinerated.

Dr Andrew Brownlow, veterinary pathologist for the Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme, told the BBC Scotland news website he had found nothing in the whale's stomach. He said:

"This was an entanglement case and from the tissue lesions it had been like this for weeks, if not months.

Gerry made all of these drawngs in a short space of time, maybe three minutes a sketch. Being a natural history illustrator is not easy!

Gerry made all of these drawngs in a short space of time, maybe three minutes a sketch. Being a natural history illustrator is not easy!

"It stops the animal from being able to feed properly or exhibit normal behaviour, which weakens the animal and then it drowns.’

"It's a real eye opener for us on the effect we can have on animals."

Moving whale parts to the skip

Moving whale parts to the skip

He added: "Its lesions were very chronic and its parasite burden was the most I have ever seen in an animal of this size.

"It had become weak because it could not feed which, in turn, meant its immune system weakened, which meant its parasite burden increased.

"So the poor animal was fighting the ropes and a heavy burden of parasites."

Torness Nuclear Power Station in the background.

Torness Nuclear Power Station in the background.

He said he was pleased at least to find no plastic in the whale's stomach.

Dr Brownlow said fishermen's ropes were often longer than the distance from the surface of the sea to the bottom so they formed coils, which was a trap for anything that swam through it.

He added: "In evolutionary terms a whale has learned to spin around to avoid an attachment but this strategy is the worst thing it could do when it's entangled as it makes the situation worse.

The skip containing the humpback being towed from the beach.

The skip containing the humpback being towed from the beach.

"It then has caught something else on the ropes around it which has made it a higher weight and it's actually drowned. It was pretty horrific."

Humpback whales breed in warmer waters in the Azores before moving to more northern waters to take advantage of the food stocks during the summer months. East Lothian Council has now removed the whale for incineration.’

BBC Scotland News

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Gerry also drew a beached whale at Beadnell Bay a few years ago, and we visited Iceland to draw whales in the wild last year, see those drawing here. You probably know, Gerry makes beautiful screen prints of whales on to vintage sea charts (here). He sells them a few times a year in an online private view to newsletter subscribers. For news on his next set of prints join the newsletter below. Don’t forget to tick your preference for whale prints when prompted.