Flanders Moss NNR
Since the beginning of January up to 3 humpback whales have been thrilling wildlife watchers at Kinghorn, Burntisland and the Fife coast along the inner and outer Forth . Interestingly the whale sightings have been in the areas historically fished as part of the herring industry and are the deepest part of the Firth. The whales’ recent presence is an indication that the fish population may be recovering in the Forth and possibly the humpback population as well. More information can be found on the Forth Marine Mammal Project facebook page.
But whales in the Forth are nothing new. Between 1800 and 1950 years ago 10 species of whale and dolphin were species were recorded in the Forth though mostly they were not greeted in the way they are today. Two white whales or Belugas were killed in the river, one shot at Stirling as recently as 1932 because it was thought to be interfering with the salmon fishing.
But we know that whales were in the Forth 7000 years ago because their skeletons have been discovered. During the 18th and 19th centuries when large scale efforts were being made to ‘improve’ the land through drainage and removal of the peat, 16 whales skeletons were discovered along the Forth, 12 of them west of Stirling, 1 even close to Flanders Moss itself. A blue whale skeleton measuring 72 feet long was found where the University of Stirling is sited now. Fin whale bones were also found and with an echo of today’s whales, bones of a humpback was found in 1824 as the peat was cleared from Blair Drummond moss, just a couple of miles east of Flanders Moss. As the peat hasn’t been cleared from Flanders who knows what could be under our feet. Many of these whales skeletons have been dated back 6000-7000 years ago to a time when the Carse of Stirling was flooded after the ice age. Whales must have entered the estuary and become stranded accidentally or maybe were driven ashore by men in boats. Alongside 4 skeletons ancient man-made tools were found showing that at when the beached whales were found, people on the Carse must have thought it was Christmas come early!
It is exciting to see whales coming back into the Forth but I hope that even with climate change and rising sea levels we don’t see them up as far as Flanders Moss again for a little while.
If you want to see some of these whales bones a few are on show in the fantastic Smith Museum in Stirling.