The stranding of an enormous fin whale on the coast in Devon is a sign of the resurgence in whale numbers after hunting was banned in 1986, an expert has said.
People have been told to stay away from the decomposing body of a fin whale which washed ashore in Devon yesterday.
Ten years ago there were no strandings in Europe at all, and sightings and beachings have increased dramatically since.
Scientists have suggested that the destruction of whales' food sources could be a factor, leading them to travel further in search of food.
But another theory suggests that the increased sightings and beachings are actually a sign that the whale population is recovering after whaling was banned in 1986.
Whale sightings reduced in the first half of the 1900s as increased hunting reduced the numbers of whales.
Fin whales are an endangered species. The WWF estimates that there are around 46,000 left in the North Atlantic.
Whale expert Rob Deaville, of the Institute of Zoology, which is based at London Zoo, said: "We had no humpback whales stranded in the UK for 80 years while whaling was going on.
"There's good evidence that they are starting to recover."
This fin whale is thought to have died at sea and later washed ashore. The cause of death is not known.
If it is not washed away by the tide, its body will be either incinerated or put into landfill.
Mr Deaville said the recovery was mostly confined to humpback and fin whales, while other species, such as killer whales, are more affected by increased pollution in the sea.
At the start of last year 29 sperm whales washed up on North Sea beaches in the space of less than a month. Some of their stomachs were found to be full of plastic.