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The Fin Whale

A fin whale was beached on Foulness in 1995 and Roger Payne from Southend Central Museum tells the story. It is not every day that a huge Whales are stranded on the Essex shoreline. The great whales are rarely reported along the east coast and strandings are rare anywhere, with only 6 British strandings of Fin Whales between 1949 and 1987.

The Fin Whale or Common Rorqual which was beached at Foulness in 1995 was an adult female 67 feet in length (20.42 metres) and weighing aproximately 40 tons. It was found lying on the mud flats between Northern Corner and Foulness point, and although impressive, it was an overwhelmingly a sad sight. It is thought to have drifted in already dead sometime on the afternoon of Saturday 28th October.

At 4.30pm that afternoon, John Skinner at the Museum (Southend Central Museum) recieved a phone call from Molly Drake that a huge Whale was drifting towards Foulness point and would probably be stranded by the following morning. At 9.30 on the morning of Sunday 29th October, and after obtaining permission from the M.O.D., John and Lawrence Watts visited the whale, took photographs, measurements, and some samples of Baleen plates. The whale, in excellent condition, was identified by John as a Fin Whale Baleenoptera physalis particularly by the asymetrical colouration of the jaws and baleen plates. I visited the whale with a BBC Essex reporter on the 2nd November and took more photographs.

The following day it disappeared,washed away on the tide according to a Ministry spokesman. It reappeared at Reculver beach in Kent on the 4th November where an autopsy was undertaken by the staff of the Natural History Museum at South Kensington. Stranded whales must be reported by law to the N.H.Museum, the legacy of whales being the queen's 'fish' and belonging to the Crown.

It is interesting to speculate how this great whale came to be stranded at Foulness. Fin Whales are extremely rare along the east coast of Britain, their usual migration routes take them along our western shores. It seems possilbe that our whale was traveling with a male which was stranded on the Isle of Sheppey in September.

This whale was 55 feet long (16.76 metres) with a full stomach of Krill (a large species of prawn) and had bruising under the lower jaw. If this individual had met an accident, then the femal, may have hung around in the area, perhaps fatally attracted by the distress cals of the male, into the dangerous waters of the Maplin Sands. The basic social unit of Fin Whales is thought to be the mother - calf pair, two adults together are likely to be of any sex and males are thought to form only transcient bonds with females for the purpose of mating.

The Fin Whale is the second largest animal in the world, second only to the Blue Whale. Both species are related and known as Rorquals fron the old Norse rorhval or grooved whale. This name refers to the grooved appearance of the stomach and the lower surface of the jaw which acts like an accordian allowing for a tremendous expansion. In feeding, huge amounts of water are gulped and masses of small food items are trapped on baleen plates as the whale's huge tongue forces the wter out. The baleen plates resemble brushes and effectively filter out the crustaceans and small fish on which rorquals feed. Fin whales are found in all the worlds oceans in subtropical and sub-polar regions. They are migratory and the smaller population of the northern hemishere passes the British coast, northwards in early spring and southwards in the Autumn. Until 1922 there were whaling stations on the west coast of Ireland and the Hebrides to exploit their annual migrations. Most of the whale's feeding is done in the colder and richer polar waters. Whilst in the warmer sub-tropical regions where they gather in the 'breeding areas', they rely on their fat reserves.

Fin Whales are thought to live as long as 80 years and become sexually mature at 8 - 12 years, almost the same as human beings. Sadly, we still know only to little about these great creatures. What goes on the inside their enormous brains we cannot guess, but even standing beside a dead member of one of these giants i felt moved by feelings that cannot be easily expressed.

Further to this story we were also told of a whale washing up on the beach at Leigh on sea, in the early 1900s, The local fishermen always on the look out for ways of making ends meet, anchored the whale into the sand and set their spare sails around the animal to create an open roof tent. They then charged the public to come inside to see and  to walk over the whale.

This lasted for a few days or weeks before the local towns people complained of the smell, so the whale was dragged out to marsh end sands and buried with the intention of reclaiming the animals bones to give to Southend luseum in a years time. As of this moment we haven't found out if they did retrieve the bones, so there could be a whale buried of the end of Canvey Island.

Sources   Edit

This is a first hand account on the Fin Whale by Roger Payne. The second story came from local author Claire Harvey who's family once leased the beach at Chalkwall.