On Saturday we travelled to Ring, Co. Waterford to visit the last resting place of a juvenile sperm whale.
The whale had been sighted off the coast of Wexford on Thursday. It was clearly in some difficulty – travelling slowly and far too close to the coast for its own good. Sperm whales spend most of the their time in deep waters off the continental shelf. It is unusual to see them so close to the coast unless there is something wrong. By Friday morning, the whale had beached itself close to the Cunniger – a long narrow spit reaching out from Ring to Dungarvan. Even though it remained alive all day Friday, long enough for the tide to come back in, it was clear to everyone that the whale was dying. Re-floating it would have been an exercise in futility.
The whale died overnight. It was not old and not even fully grown; no more than 20 years of age and measuring 10 metres from head to tail fin. It is not known why he perished. Some observers noted that he was underweight and possibly starving. A post-mortem is unlikely to be carried out, so the cause of death may never be known.
A large crowd was present by the time we arrived. Curiosity had spurred families from all around the country to see this rare, if somewhat morbid, spectacle. Scientists had taken some tissue samples earlier in the day, causing a small pool of blood to form under the whale’s mouth. For many, this would have been the largest creature they had ever seen up close. It was quite moving to see such a beautiful creature so helpless and still.