A beached orca on the examination table

The orca that ran aground and died near Cadzand on 15 October ended up on the autopsy table at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. Initial results of the examination – conducted by Utrecht University in collaboration with Wageningen Marine Research – revealed a case of severe gum disease. The animal was also suffering from multiple inflammations to its internal organs and had not eaten for a long time. As biologist Lonneke IJsseldijk of Utrecht University explains, the orca was emaciated: 'All the orca's teeth were loose and had started rotting. It must have been in a lot of pain, especially when it was eating.' 

Gestrandde orka wordt de sectiezaal binnengedragen aan een takel.
Onderzoekers duwen de ruim 2000 kilo wegende orka in de juiste richting, zodat het dier op de sectietafel kan worden onderzocht.
Researchers push the orca – which weighs over 2,000 kg – in the right direction so that it can be examined on the autopsy table.

A familiar orca in Spanish waters

Proyecto O.R.CA - Cádiz, a Spanish animal welfare organisation dedicated to the conservation of endangered orcas, recognised the orca from video footage. The whale had never been sighted this far north until she was spotted off the Dutch coast last October. She may have strayed from her normal environment due to illness.

Dire onderzoekers staan naast de gestrande orka die boven de snijtafel hangt en onderzoeken het dier.
Twee onderzoekers in rode pakken nemen een bloedmonster van de orka

Samples of organs

Further examinations are needed to determine the causes of inflammations in its various internal organs. The researchers gather samples of organs and take blood samples. These samples are then examined under a microscope in various laboratories.

Onderzoekers in rode pakken bestuderen een gestrande orka die boven de snijtafel hangt.


As IJsseldijk explains, the examination also revealed muscle damage. “Marine mammals are fully adapted to life underwater. Their bodies come under a lot of pressure from gravity when they run aground. That has all kinds of effects on their circulation, breathing and overall chances of survival. Unfortunately, the orca died as a result when it ran aground.”

The orca section was followed under great (inter)national interest.
Want to learn more about our research on beached marine animals? 

Strandings Investigation

This is an article from:

Vetscience issue 14 (in Dutch)