Living in Orkney we are all too aware of what can wash up on our shores be it in the form of marine litter or dead and dying animals. What happens if the animals who wash ashore are still alive and can be rescued? What happens if they are not beached but still in the water, in distress and tangled in ropes or netting? For one local man, Marc Herridge, this has become something of a self-confessed obsession.
Marc is a member of British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) a voluntary group which is dedicated to the rescue of marine wildlife such as whales, dolphins, porpoises and seals. The marine medics will respond to calls about stranded marine wildlife 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year. Marc is part of a small number of trained marine medics in Orkney and he also works closely with other wildlife groups including Ross Flett at Orkney Seal Rescue.
In 2015 BDMLR was called into action when a pilot whale became stranded on Dingieshowe beach. Using their skills and with the help of willing helpers the team was able to refloat the whale with specialised pontoons. A significant amount of time was then spent in the water by all the volunteers to ensure that the disoriented animal did not attempt to beach itself again.
Marc has rigged out his BDMLR vehicle with a lot of equipment including a water pump which can ease the distress of stranded animals by keeping them wet until they can be refloated. He also has a boat which can be towed to where it is needed.
Being a member of the Orkney section of BDMLR does not mean you are only concerned with our local shores. Marc can be called out to anywhere and recently this has involved potential trips to the Western Isles and Cornwall.
Why do marine mammals strand themselves?
It is still a puzzle as to why marine mammals become beached but there are a few reasons suggested including:
- water pollution
- sonar noise
- attacks by sharks and other marine mammals
- chasing food
- not being aware of a beach if it is steeply sloping
- abnormalities in the Earth’s magnetic field
- effects of global warming
- following the pack
- problems with feeding due to marine pollution
The Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme carries out post mortems on dead marine animals and has uncovered huge amounts of plastic within their digestive systems. The animal becomes so ‘blocked up’ it can no longer feed and basically starves to death.
Marc Herridge is also a trained volunteer as part of BDMLR’s Large Whale Disentanglement Team (LWDT). This is an extremely dangerous job and the volunteers who do it are highly skilled and fully trained.
In the Arctic there are 4 main species of whale: Grey, Bowhead, Beluga and Narwhal but also including Sperm whales, Blue whales, Fin Whales, Humpback Whales and Killer Whales. Whales get entangled in netting and ropes which can have a variety of catastrophic effects for the animal. Dragging large amounts of netting or rope can slow them down to the extent that they are no longer able to hunt effectively and they slowly starve to death. Or they can become anchored to the sea bed and drown.
Sometimes it is impossible to free the whales as to do so would cause the animal even more distress and harm. Where it is possible to rescue the whales from the ropes and netting this is where the LWDT brings its skilled personnel onto the scene. The organisation Marc is a member of is the only one of its kind in the whole of Europe. It is run by volunteers and relies on charity for its funding. Undertaking a large whale rescue poses huge risks for the volunteers because they are working with a distressed and confused unpredictable wild animal but that is why the rigorous training the rescuers have is so important. Whales who are successfully rescued appear to make a full recovery.
Marc Herridge may be, as he says, obsessed about his volunteer work but it is people like Marc that make this world a better place for all the species who share it.
Reporter: Fiona Grahame
- BDMLR: 01825 765546
- SSPCA 03000 999 999 (Scotland)
- RSPCA 0300 1234 999 (England & Wales)
- CSIP 0800 6520 333 (stranded animal)
- CSIP www.ukstrandings.org (dead animals)