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Monster find on banks of River Trent

Scunthorpe Telegraph

29th November 2003

A 20-foot whale carcass weighing in at two tonnes has washed up on the bank of the River Trent.

The grisly find is a Minke whale. It is understood it was originally spotted three weeks ago near Gunness, but was not seen again until earlier this week at Morton, near Gainsborough. While sightings of whales in the Humber are not unusual, it is rare for them to enter the Trent, according to members of the Coastguard.

In fact it is believed the last one that strayed into the fresh water of the Trent was caught and killed in 1901.

Officers from the Environment Agency were sent to hunt down the latest victim, and tied the carcass to a tree to prevent it floating away.

Agency launch attendant Colin Gleadell (59) said the agency had been alerted to a whale floating in the River Trent some two weeks ago but had failed to find it until now.

He said: "We had a call to say the whale was floating in the river near Gainsborough. Two of us set out on a motor boat and finally found it near Morton Corner - it was much bigger than we expected."

Mr Gleadell said: "I think the whale swam into the Humber estuary and choked on the silt. It may have died due to tiredness or may even have been hit by a boat.

"At first I thought it was a pilot whale, but having looked in reference books I now believe it is a Minke whale."

Environment Agency spokesman Oliver Blackburn said: "We consulted the Natural History Museum before we tied the whale up, who said it was a sensible idea.

"It is the responsibility of Lincolnshire County Council's waste disposal team to get rid of the whale. We are in the process of contacting them," he added.

Alison Kentuck, from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, said: "There were concerns it was causing a navigational hazard so it is now secured to the shore to make sure it doesn't float off again on the next high tide."

Pilotage operations manager with Humber Estuary Services captain Phil Cowing said he had heard reports of a whale being sighted near Gunness on November 5.

He said: "We never heard any more about it, there were no further sightings. Whales do come into the Humber, but it's fairly unusual on the Trent."

Curator of mammals at the Natural History Museum Richard Sabin said it was unusual for a whale to be found so far upstream.

He said: "Once they start to decompose they fill up with gas and float. Out at sea, birds come down and peck away at the flesh and the gas escapes."

He added when he saw a photograph of this whale there was evidence of scavenger damage, and the size of the body would indicate the mammal was newly born.

Mr Sabin said: "Because of the rough weather a couple of weeks ago the whale may have become separated from its mother and starved to death."

He advised people who saw whales in the future to contact the RSPCA if the animals were still alive, or contact a national hotline if it had died.

People should avoid touching the body because they carry diseases, which can be passed on to humans.

The National Whale Stranding Programme has been running for 90 years and is currently funded by DEFRA.

The number for people to contact is 0207 942 5155.