A post mortem examination is being carried out on a 27ft minke whale which washed up on a Scarborough beach on Wednesday.
The body, which had been spotted a day earlier floating near the outflow pipe in the North Bay, will be dissected and removed this afternoon.
Scientist Rob Deaville, from the UK Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme, which is managed by the Zoological Society of London, drove up from the capital this morning to carry out the examination.
It is a race against time, as there is just a two-hour window in which to complete the post mortem and remove the body from the beach before the tide comes in.
It is believed the whale, which has a rope mark on the back of its tail, may have become caught in a lobster pot and drowned, after members of Scarborough Sea Life Centre were notified by a fisherman.
Senior aquarist Todd German said: “It’s a very rare occurrence to actually get a whale in such good condition washing up on the shore, particularly on our stretch of coastline, and we just want to make the most of it.
“We’re going to look at why this whale has died. We are pretty confident as to why, we were contacted by a fisherman the other day who believed he got it caught in his lobster pot about six miles east of the Scarborough Castle headland. It’s actually a very rare occurrence for any animal to get caught in a lobster pot. It’s a very low impact form of fishing.”
Representatives from a number of agencies, including Sealife, the RSPCA and the Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority, were on hand to assist Mr Deaville with the examination as crowds of people looked on.
The responsibility of removal falls under the Maritime Coastguard Agency as the whale is technically classed as a wreck.
This was delegated to Scarborough Council, which brought in contractors to physically remove the whale from the beach.
A ramp was constructed from the slipway at the foot of the cliff, below Holbeck car park, so a tractor could access the rocky beach and get as close to the whale as possible.
Once the post mortem has been completed this afternoon, the dissected whale will be brought back up to the car park in the tractor, before being transported to an incinerator.
RSPCA officer Geoff Edmond, who is also a national wildlife co-ordinator, said: “It’s quite a sad day but it can’t be left on the beach, it must be recovered. Hence why all this action has been taken. But the opportunity is there to carry out a post mortem so we can learn from that.
“Afterwards the beach will return to normal and the research will be used to help with other standing programmes to try and work out what’s happening with the whales here and other places along the coast of the British Isles.
“We get strandings every year, but it’s a long while since we’ve had one in Scarborough. Quite a few whales that wash up have been dead a long time and are decomposing. This one is freshly dead and a good candidate for a post mortem so we’ll wait and see what happens. It has got some injuries but we’ll build a picture up with all the agencies involved as to what exactly has taken place.”
Minke whales are found in the North Sea and, although they prefer shallow waters, are usually seen well offshore.