Museum’s plea to leave whale

The fin whale carcass that washed up at Cove Rock beach on Monday after the rare 40-ton mammal became stranded in shallow waters is being left to decompose on the beach so that the East London Museum can salvage its skeleton.

Buffalo City Metro’s chief of marine services Siani Tinley has appealed to anglers not to fish for sharks attracted to the cove after a large bronze whaler shark washed up near the whale carcass.

BAY WATCH: The East London Aquarium has asked anglers not to catch and release sharks that have been attracted to the decomposing fin whale at Cove Rock beach after a dead copper shark washed up earlier this week. The whale carcass will be left to decompose to enable the East London Museum to perform research on its skeleton Picture: SUPPLIED
BAY WATCH: The East London Aquarium has asked anglers not to catch and release sharks that have been attracted to the decomposing fin whale at Cove Rock beach after a dead copper shark washed up earlier this week. The whale carcass will be left to decompose to enable the East London Museum to perform research on its skeleton Picture: SUPPLIED

“Increased shark fishing is resulting in an increase in shark mortalities. We are appealing to the fishing community to be considerate in their actions and not target this area while there is natural chumming occurring,” she said.

Tinley said the body of the 2m bronze whaler, also known as a copper shark, washed up on Tuesday after anglers had been shark fishing near the fin whale’s carcass. “This shark had no obvious wounds and was in good condition, so it is surmised it died of exhaustion after being caught and released.”

She said sharks caught and released were often compromised and failed to survive. “We appeal to the public not to take advantage of our marine environment in a way that there is unnecessary loss.”

She said it was illegal to be in possession of any part, including meat or blubber, of a cetacean (whale or dolphin), but that people had already removed “an extensive amount”.

The beach has now been closed for swimming and residents of Cove Rock estate and other settlements in the area have been asked to be patient while the carcass decomposes.

Tinley said the carcass would not pose a direct health or safety hazard because residents were not close enough to be affected.

Signs explaining the process and securing people’s “buy in” will be erected.

The 22m fin whale, usually found only in deep waters, became stranded at Cove Rock last Sunday and was found dead on Monday morning after rescue attempts failed to re-float it.

East London Museum’s principal scientist Kevin Cole said the fin whale had been identified as female and a partial autopsy had determined she had not been ill.

“We would like to see the condition of the skeleton and also measure the vertebra and take dimensions of the jaw. There have not been many fin whale strandings so such data is important for comparative studies.”

Tinley said the aquarium and museum were managing the carcass “as best as possible”.

“Scientific data and samples have been taken from the carcass and the task team has started debriding it [removing tissue] to aid decomposition.”

Cove Rock Country Estate resident Werner Illgner said he had not heard any residents complaining of foul odours.

“It is far away from our community so I don’t think the smell would reach us.

“We were all heartbroken when the whale died. It was a tragedy.” — barbarah@dispatch.co.za

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