Why do whales land on land
When you hear the word “whale” one quickly thinks of huge animals. The whale that most frequently visits the North Sea is the humpback whale. They usually get along well and swim happily towards the ocean with their belly full of North Sea herring. The sperm whales that swim in the North Sea usually end up less well: They mostly get stranded because they get into problems in the shallow coastal waters. There are also mini whales: porpoises, which swim in tens of thousands in the Dutch part of the North Sea, grow to a maximum of one and a half meters in length. They still belong to the whale-like species.
Whales: Earlier on land
The ancestors of the whales were land mammals. In the early Tertiary (around 50 million years ago) a group of predatory mammals settled in the coastal area. Gradually they adapted more and more to a swimming life in the sea. They became animals without hind legs, but with fin-like front legs and a widened, flattened tail.
Whales have teeth or whiskers
There are two groups of whales: baleen whales and toothed whales. Most baleen whales are huge. They have a huge mouth without teeth, but with beards. These consist of horn-like plates that hang down like a curtain from the upper jaw. The whales use their whales to sieve their food out of the water. Most baleen whales feed on krill: shrimp-like creatures found in gigantic quantities in the oceans. But also small fish that live in schools, such as herrings, are on the menu of the baleen whales.
Toothed whales are usually much smaller than baleen whales. Only the sperm whales can match the baleen whales in size. Dolphins and porpoises are also toothed whales. They mainly eat fish or squid. The killer whale also hunts seals, penguins, porpoises and dolphins.
Distribution of whales in the North Sea
Since whale species tend to swim deeper underwater, they are difficult to see. Large whales are rare in the North Sea. Only the smallest baleen whale, the minke whale, is sighted regularly in the northern North Sea. In recent years, humpback whales have regularly been swimming off the Dutch coast. These animals are used to swimming in shallow coastal waters and likely come because of the fish that swim in large schools in the coastal waters. When a sperm whale or other large species of whale lands in the shallow southern North Sea, it is a mistake: animals that have swum out of their natural environment for unknown reasons. Often things don't end well for them and they wash up somewhere. As a result of climate change, the currents in the oceans change. It cannot be ruled out that more and different types of whales will end up in the North Sea as a result.
Rearing of whale-like species
Large whales washed up alive usually cannot be saved. They are way too big and heavy and are crushed by their own weight. If the rising water releases them shortly after washing up, specialists can try to accompany them into safer, deeper water. Porpoises and dolphins are a bit more manageable, but these animals are also difficult to keep. The SOS Dolfijn Foundation specializes in their care.
Special whale-like species on the Dutch coast
In addition to the species mentioned above, rare whales occasionally appear off the Dutch coast. In the North Sea, close to the coast, bones from gray whales and northern right whales have been found. These bones prove that these species may have been present here until the Middle Ages. Every now and then a stray beluga appears from the far north. In 1966 someone swam up the Rhine. 1980-1981 and 1984 one was seen in the Scheldt and Ems estuary. Belugas are residents of estuaries in the North Pole area. So it is not strange that they are found in rivers. In 1912 a narwhal came to an end in the Zuiderzee. This too had got lost from the far north. The blue whale, the pygmy sperm whale and a herd of killer whales stranded on the Dutch coast came from the Atlantic.
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