Washed-up orca on Belgian beach: Autopsy fails to find cause of death
An autopsy on the orca that washed up on the beach in De Panne on Sunday has failed to reveal a clear cause of death.
The male orca was spotted swimming off the Belgian coast on Sunday morning, the first confirmed sighting of its kind in the country. A few hours later, the animal washed up on the beach in De Panne and died shortly afterwards.
"It is always interesting to know the cause of death," says Kelle Moreau of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences (KBIN). "With predators at the top of the food chain, the cause of death can be an indicator of the health of the whole ecosystem."
Initial results confirm the suspicion that the animal was very weak. "The animal had clearly not eaten for some time, as its stomach and intestines were empty," Moreau said. "No fractures were found, so we can assume that it did not collide with anything."
The autopsy also found no abnormalities in the major organs. The researchers did see signs of problems with the orca's lymphatic system, which could possibly indicate an infection. "This could explain the weakening, but it needs to be investigated further in the laboratory," said Moreau.
Toxicological tests will also be carried out to check for chemical contamination. "Unfortunately, there is a lot of pollution in the sea. Just think of heavy metals like mercury," said Moreau. "These toxins can accumulate in a top predator like an orca, which eats huge amounts of fish every day," she said.
A weakened and hungry animal has to tap into its fat reserves, which is where the body stores toxins and heavy metals. The re-entry of these substances into the animal's bloodstream can be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel's back, Moreau explained.
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