An adult humpback whale washed up onto Kiwane Beach, some 46km outside East London along the R72 over the weekend, after residents in Kayser’s Beach spotted the already dead and bloated whale drift past some two weeks before.
Locals who had heard about the beached whale rushed to the scene and started chopping away to harvest bones, jaw bits, meat and skin which they claimed would be used for medicinal purposes.
East London Museum principal scientist Kevin Cole confirmed the sighting of the whale and warned that any washed-up animal was protected and it was illegal to take anything from the animal.
“Judging from what I saw [photographs sent to me] the animal must have been dead for quite a while but the cause of death could not be established.
“It is very difficult to say just how old it is. I would estimate it to be an adult but not fully grown.
“Often we have whales or dolphins wash up and we would discourage anyone from taking anything from it because it could carry bacteria infections or diseases. Removal of the meat could be unhealthy if consumed,” he said.
Cole said while the washed-up carcass did not pose an environmental risk, it could pose a danger out at sea if small boats collided with it.
Such washed up animals usually take six to eight weeks to decompose naturally.
The whale, which looked unrecognisable when the Daily Dispatch visited the area, had had its intestines partially removed and its skin had been ripped off, along with other body parts.
One of the men seen harvesting the whale meat, ribs and jaw bones said he had arrived on Friday.
“We came out here early morning and started chopping away at the whale for traditional purposes. It is not often that a whale washes up and so when we heard about it we had to come out here. Over the two days that we have been out here we have at least managed to get about 400 kilograms worth of whale,” he said.
Another man was seen carrying a rib on his shoulders up to the bakkie where they had about six buckets filled with whale meat, along with four black bags.
His friend said they could not let the opportunity pass them by. “It is a scarcity to find something like this and it is going to go to waste anyway. “We will not be eating it because we believe the whale must have been dead for a while now but we need it for muti and medicines,” he said.
The pair, along with a host of other men, had pangas, hammers, axes and other tools to assist in deboning the animal.
Cole said: “If anyone sees an animal out at sea or washed up it is best to give us a call because we do keep a register of sightings and other important information which helps with our research.” — firstname.lastname@example.org