Are large marine mammals set to return to the Belgian coast?

The stranding of a killer whale in De Panne on Sunday hit the headlines. Although it is unusual to see such a large marine mammal on the Flemish coast, this may change in the future, marine biologist Jan Haelters of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences told EOS Magazine.

In De Panne, a male orca washed up on the beach on Sunday after being spotted along the coast earlier in the day. The animal died shortly after. Investigations showed that the orca was old and weak.

It is unusual for a killer whale to end up on a beach in Flanders. The last time this happened was in 1850. The number of reports about large marine predators has also remained limited. There have only been four sightings since 1900.

However, we cannot rule out the possibility of seeing more orcas and other large marine mammals in the coming years, as well as fish such as great white sharks. And that has everything to do with the growing seal population. "Both species have seals on their menu," marine biologist Jan Haelters of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences told EOS Magazine.

"A great white shark has been sighted off the west coast of Britain - possibly two. And killer whales are regularly seen off the west and north coasts of Scotland. There is no reason to believe either species would not turn up here."

Increasing populations

Walruses and humpback whales are also seen more frequently in the North Sea, possibly because their populations are increasing. This may be due to an increased food supply of sprat and herring, although the availability is still limited. "The media sometimes report that fish stocks are doing well, but that is untrue. It is better than ten years ago but much worse than 100 years ago," Haelters explained.

Some marine mammals have also disappeared in recent decades, including bottlenose dolphins. "They have been victims of pollution or overfishing. They also saw their food supply dwindle. Nowadays, we see only occasional passers-by, and occasionally one will stay for a few days, months or even years. I don't rule out the possibility of bottlenose dolphins returning one day, but the omnipresence of human activity makes it very difficult.



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