Victor Simpson, and his wife, currently run the Wildlife Veterinary Investigation Centre from their home in Cornwall since retiring in 2001, to continue their study of diseases within British wildlife. Since a young age Victor took an interest in wildlife, in particular their cause of death, making him the passionate and knowledgeable physician today. Victor is profound for his twenty-one years with the Veterinary Investigation Service at Polwhele Laboratory, and his studies of mute swan mortality, as well as the discovery of lead poisoning caused by ingestion of angling weights. He obtained his BVSC at Bristol University and a Diploma in Tropical Veterinary Medicine in Edinburgh, and has since taken it upon himself to offer his services, when possible, to uncover the truth behind unfortunate events such as the recent investigation into the mass stranding of male Shags Phalacrocorax aristotelis on Gyllingvase beach. Wildlife across Cornwall has taken a pounding in the recent and persistent storms with a record number in memory washed onto the coast, these animals which can usually cope in bad weather are living on low reserves, leading to loss in large numbers whilst debris washed ashore are causing entanglement or death. Over twenty different bird species have been found with a small mortality rate, whilst the majority were ‘clean’ over one hundred on southwest beaches were reported to have wings stuck together with oil.
I joined Victor on his journey of discovery which uncovered that the birds beached in Falmouth perished shortly after feeding, dying with their stomachs full of undigested fish. “These large number of males could impact the breeding season dramatically…”, whilst this species is commonly persecuted by commercial fisheries and farms as a threat to fish stocks, “…the cause of death is most likely drowning”. It could not be one hundred percent accurate due to the frozen preservation of the birds, whilst bruising is consistent with thrashing waves and no other significant cause of death was found with no oil or entanglement. Shags breed in large colonies with one bird constantly present with the clutch or brood during breeding season, explaining why such a large number of males were feeding, with over thirty birds washed onto the shore with many more claimed by the sea, over seventy percent of these were Shags, which is unusual for a stranding this large and it is important to discover why it occurred. “Many do not find these investigations important including governments, leaving them unfunded…”, but due to the hard work and generosity of Victor Simpson it can continue, but exercised on a smaller scale. “Autopsy’s like this one are often considered unorthodox and cruel when its vital to gain an understanding of events… caring about animals should continue after their last breath and thrive curiosity to uncover cause of death…” to continue to learn about our wildlife we must delve under the skin and look at the cause of issues to understand how to preserve, prevent and manage species and their environments. As pressures increase from both climate change and human interaction it is key physicians such as Victor Simpson continue their extraordinary work in which we should support and provide the resources to continue his work.