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Dead killer whale to remain in Shetland

The female Orca beached herself on the uninhabited island of Linga, last week - Photo: Cy Sullivan

THE KILLER whale which beached itself and died on the uninhabited island of Linga last week will stay in Shetland and is to be displayed as an educational exhibit.

The National Museum of Scotland (NMS) confirmed on Friday that it had abandoned its plans to take the remains of the five metre long mammal to Edinburgh for research purposes.

Instead, the skeleton of the female orca will eventually be displayed at the Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary.

The sanctuary’s Pete and Jan Bevington have now started the ‘de-fleshing’ of the large mammal, which has been towed from Linga to Walls on the Shetland mainland, for easier access.

Pete Bevington said: “We have been approached by many people who have been upset at the thought of the whale leaving Shetland and going to Edinburgh.

“We felt the same way thinking it would be great to keep the whale here, retain the skeleton and turn it into an educational exhibit at the wildlife sanctuary because of the huge interest in these creatures.

“We had a discussion with Andrew Kitchener (the principal curator of vertebrates at the NMS) who was arguing that they would like to keep it for research purposes, but we said it would be a very tremendous educational resource in Shetland, particularly with all the interest in killer whales over the last year.”

Bevington added that they had confirmation that a team from the museum would now not be coming to Shetland to collect the whale.

A spokeswoman for the NMS said while it would have liked to take the remains, it didn’t want to stand in the way of the wildlife sanctuary’s interest in the mammal.

“We hold an important and one of the largest research collections of cetaceans, and we have researchers from all over the world and carry out research on our collections that brings great benefit to the conservation of many species including killer whales,” she said.

“So, yes we would very much liked to have acquired it for our collection for the purpose of research.

“However, we have now discovered, I think just yesterday (Thursday), that the Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary is interested in collecting the skeleton and putting that on display, and therefore we will defer to their interest – so currently we don’t have any plan regarding the remains of the orca.”

Bevington said: “We are quite excited about the idea of having a killer whale skeleton at the Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary.

“We hope to be able to do something similar to what Dorotha Rychlik and Richard Rowland have done on Vaila with a sperm whale that washed up back in 2000.”

The owners of Vaila managed to keep a 42ft sperm whale that was washed ashore on their remote islands in 2000, and have reassembled its bones in a former estate byre.

By coincidence, the orca beached itself on an uninhabited island next to Vaila.

Once the whale’s flesh is removed, and disposed of by the council’s environmental health department, the bones are likely to be buried in a mixture of sand and peat, or alternatively horse manure.

“At the end of the process you will get a very clean bone. This will take at least a year,” Bevington said.

Scientists have now established that the female orca had been pregnant, but aborted the calf and prolapsed her uterus.

She was also suffering from a severe infection in her abdominal region and must have been in a lot of pain when she beached on the island before dying soon afterwards.