What Happens to Beached Whales in England?

What happens when a beached whale washes up along England’s shores? It’s a messy business, of course, but one thing is clear: as a "royal fish," the whale belongs to the monarchy.

According to medieval English law, beached whales are the property of the monarch.
According to medieval English law, beached whales are the property of the monarch.

According to Rob Deaville, who works for the Zoological Society of London, “a very ancient statute gave the head of the Crown the right to all the cetaceans stranded around the UK.” At least in modern times, no royal has actually laid claim to a beached sea animal, but the monarch’s right to royal fish (including whales, sturgeon, and porpoises) was recognized by a statute enacted during the reign of Edward II in the early 14th century.

A whale of a tale:

  • In the novel ”Moby-Dick,” Herman Melville quoted jurist William Prynne, writing that the queen received the tail in order to be supplied with whalebone for her corsets and stays.

  • Today, whale specimens are used by the Natural History Museum for research. ”They are so hard to study in the wild that strandings give you a unique opportunity to learn more about them,” Deaville said.

  • Sadly, there's evidence that a lot of whales are starving to death. “We only get male sperm whale strandings in the UK and the ones we've examined post mortem have all shown evidence of a lack of recent feeding,” Deaville said.

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