Stranded Killer Whale Rescued From Beach May Have Got Lost While Feeding

A marine wildlife rescue team operating in the U.K. sprang into action this week after an "incredibly rare" live stranding of a young orca.

Medics from the British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) rushed to the dolphin's aid on Monday morning after local residents saw the beached animal close to their home in Sanday, an island of Orkney off the north coast of mainland Scotland.

Upon arrival, medics found a juvenile Orca that appeared to be in good health but was stuck on its side, lying parallel to the sea with the ocean tide coming in.

It was estimated to be 11 feet long and around 3 to 4 years old, which would mean that it was no longer dependent on its mother to feed or survive. An expert involved with the operation told Newsweek that it possibly got stuck while feeding in shallow water.

With the aid of local residents, the BDMLR team shifted the orca into an upright position and ensured that its blowhole—used to breathe—was not submerged in water.

The incoming tide eventually helped to lift the animal, and it was rotated to face the sea. Roughly an hour later, the Orca stretcher was lowered and the animal swam out towards the open ocean "without looking back," the rescuers added in a media release.

The BDMLR on Orkney were alerted this morning to a live stranded dolphin at Bay of Newark near Tres Ness, Sanday. Local residents Colin and Heather Headworth happened to spot the animal lying in the...

The team will continue to monitor the area this week, but there had been no further sign of the beached orca in the surf area after it was saved by the medics.

BDMLR Area Coordinator Emma Neave-Webb told Newsweek Orca strandings are rare, with the last one she was aware of occurring in 2017 in Shetland, after stormy weather. The last live orca stranding BDMLR dealt with was in 1995, in Dover, Kent.

On average, Neave-Webb said the Orkney team record one or two live strandings a year, despite orca commonly being spotted in the region. "We see orca quite a bit but they don't tend to accidentally end up getting caught out, and certainly the ones we tend to see around here know the coastline really really well," she said by phone.

In its media release, BDMLR said its experts believed the stranded orca this week was a young male that seemed to have been feeding recently and should survive. They said it may have left its pod, or they could perhaps have been further from shore.

In a Facebook comment Monday, Neave-Webb said it was impossible to say for certain if the beached animal would survive but the team remained "cautiously optimistic."

"The animal was in very good nutritional health, indicating it has been feeding well. It also had some very fresh rake markings on its body indicating it has been interacting with other orca in recent days so hopefully they were not far away," she wrote.

"Orca can communicate over quite a distance so they wouldn't necessarily be in sight for them to be in contact. One thing is for sure, he was vocalizing all the time and this vocalization changed once he was back in the water so any animals out there would hopefully hear him. He headed off in a constant direction which is a good sign."

Neave-Webb told Newsweek every stranding is different but can often be caused by an injury, disease or an animal simply losing its awareness of its surroundings, which is the leading theory of what happened to the orca that was stranded this week.

"We do get some which is navigational error, where the animal is either in an area that it doesn't know that well or it just gets caught out by the tide," she said.

"We think the [orca on Monday] was perhaps feeding in the shallows and because it's quite a shallow sandy bay, as the tide swapped it's just got caught out.

"It was alert, it was cooling, it was really, really, vocal throughout the whole thing and then it swam off strongly so far as we could tell with the limited resources we have, it was in good health, and again that indicates that was probably navigational error."

Young Orca Stranded on Beach in UK
The Orca (pictured) was estimated to be roughly 11-foot long and around 3-4 years old, which would mean that it was no longer maternally dependent. An expert involved with the operation told Newsweek that it was likely stranded after a “navigational error.” HEATHER HEADWORTH/BDMLR/Emma Neave-Webb/Imogen Sawyer