A RARE whale spotted off the Sussex coast may be linked to a “worrying” pattern of strandings across Europe, experts say.

Onlookers Philip and Sophia Beicken were stunned when they spotted a Sowerby’s beaked whale off the coast of Ovingdean on Friday.

Brighton Dolphin Project director Dylan Walker said it was thought to be the first recorded live sighting of the creature in Sussex.

But he said the whale is “very likely” the same specimen found stranded in Portsmouth, Hampshire, on Sunday, which later died.

“It’s incredible to see one alive anywhere in the world,” Mr Walker said.

“They normally live in waters 1,000 metres deep or more.

“When they’re close to the shore it’s more often they’re about to strand.

“Sometimes they get lost, though we don’t know why.

“They can’t find their way out of shallow waters and they can’t find food.

“They basically starve and strand.”

The Argus: Brighton Dolphin Project director Dylan WalkerBrighton Dolphin Project director Dylan Walker

But Mr Walker said the Sussex sighting could be linked to a pattern of “worrying” whale strandings across Europe in recent days.

Three other Sowerby’s whales have been found dead in Kent, Belgium and the Netherlands.

Last week seven bottlenose whales also stranded on the west coast of Ireland. Only one survived.

Though the cause of the strandings is not yet known, Mr Walker suspected military sonar exercises may be a factor.

“What we’ve found in the last 20 years is when navies use something called mid-frequency sonar, that seems to really panic these animals,” he said.

“If they’re 1,000 metres deep they panic and try to surface really quickly.

“Just like humans, they can get the bends and that can be fatal.

“So these strandings could be linked to some sort of exercise.

“The problem is navies aren’t exactly forthcoming about these exercises.

“It’s very likely the animal that stranded in Portsmouth was the same one spotted off the coast of Ovingdean.

The Argus: A whale was found stranded in Portsmouth on Sunday. Photo: CSIP/ZSLA whale was found stranded in Portsmouth on Sunday. Photo: CSIP/ZSL

“But you can’t say for sure, and it could still be out there.”

Mr Walker also said storms can cause strandings.

Last week Storm Ellen battered the UK, with Storm Francis following suit this week.

The Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme, which analyses dolphin and whale deaths, said it will not be possible to conduct a full investigation into the Portsmouth stranding.

But project manager Rob Deaville said the event was “markedly unusual” as only one Sowerby’s whale has previously been found stranded in the Channel region.

“There was a Sowerby’s stranding at Saltdean in October 2018,” he said.

“That’s the only other one we’ve recorded stranded in the Channel region over the 30 years the project’s been running.”

Sowerby’s beaked whales look similar to dolphins but are distinguished by their dorsal fins.

While dolphins’s dorsal fins are in the middle of their backs, Sowerby’s whales’ fins are further back.

Any dolphin or whale sightings in Sussex should be reported to the Brighton Dolphin Project on Facebook or Twitter.

If you see a live dolphin or whale stranding, call British Divers Marine Life Rescue on 01825 765546.

If you see a dead dolphin or whale stranding, call the Cetacean Strandings Investigations Programme on 0800 652 0333.