Page last updated at 09:44 GMT, Wednesday, 6 August 2008 10:44 UK

Beached sperm whale dies in firth

Sperm whale in Inner Moray Firth. Pic: copyright WDCS/Charlie Phillips
The whale stranded in shallows at Alturlie, between Inverness and Fort George

A whale which became beached in shallow water on a shoreline near Inverness has died, coastguards have confirmed.

The 40ft adult male sperm whale was first spotted swimming in the Inner Moray Firth earlier in the week.

It spent much of Monday moving in circles before becoming stranded in six feet of water at Alturlie, near Fort George, on Tuesday.

The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society said it may have suffered a slow death.

Local officer Charlie Phillips said, once the tide had gone out and the animal was left without the support of water, the weight of its body would crush its internal organs.

Crowds gathered at the scene on Tuesday afternoon to see the whale, however, animal welfare staff prevented people from getting close to allow it to die in peace.

Official guidance to Highland Council on dealing with the whale applies only to Scotland. In England and Wales, responsibility for "royal fish" rests with the Receiver of Wreck
The guide draws on historical references, such as the Crown can claim stranded whales which are too large to be drawn to land by a "wain pulled by six oxen"
Sperm whales hold records for deepest diving mammal, largest toothed whale and largest brain

Sperm whales are a deep diving species and the Moray Firth does not provide the large squid they feed on.

The conservation society's director of science, Mark Simmonds, said its appearance in the stretch of water was like finding a panda in a supermarket.

Highland Council will now have to dispose of the body.

Local authorities are guided by a document - titled Royal Fish: Guidance for dealing with stranded Royal Fish - when having to handle an incident involving marine creatures measuring more than 25ft from snout to the middle of the tail.

Two years ago, abattoir staff were called in by Moray Council to deal with the carcass of a 43ft sperm whale washed up on a beach at Roseisle.

The mammal was cut into three pieces and taken to an abattoir in Keith to be incinerated.

Souvenir hunters were suspected of having removed the deep diving whale's lower jawbone shortly after it was discovered.

In pictures: Stranded whale
06 Aug 08 |  In Pictures
Sperm whale stranded on shoreline
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