Souvenir hunters may have been responsible for removing jaw parts from two sperm whales washed up on the Donegal coast last week.
The female whales beached at Maghery in West Donegal and at Malin Head last Wednesday.
Photographs taken after the strandings show both animals’ lower jaws removed.
Marine biologist Seán O’Callaghan claimed in a tweet that the jaws were taken by souvenir hunters or people hoping to sell the teeth “even though it’s disrespectful and illegal”.
The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG) said they took samples from the two whales but did not remove the lower jaws.
IWDG stranding manager Stephanie Levesque said removal of the lower jaw bone was common in sperm whale strandings.
“I don’t know who does it, but it’s something that happens to sperm whales when they get stranded – the lower jaw is the first thing. I don’t know if people think they’re worth anything. We don’t know who did it, maybe it was someone who did it for a legitimate purpose, but it wasn’t us.
The IWDG requires a license to take samples of the protected species. She said the group usually takes a tooth or two from the whales to help determine the age. She said the condition of the animals would not be enough to suggest there was an unnatural cause of death.
“The majority of animals die at sea and after floating for weeks and being attacked by scavengers, they are stranded. The situation is not strange at all.
It could not be said whether the death of the whales was linked to sonar tests, as has been suggested, following Russian naval exercises which took place 200 miles off the south coast. west of Ireland, she said.
“We receive an average of three sperm whales (stranded or stranded) a year, so the numbers are not a cause for concern at the moment, but it is something we are monitoring.”
The IWDG clarified in a Facebook post on Wednesday that the recent whale strandings in Ireland cannot currently be described “as an unusual mortality event”.