20 September 2017

Namibia: 'No Joke' Burying Henties Whale

VARIOUS departments of the Henties Bay municipality, led by the town's traffic chief Johannes Makina, worked hard yesterday (Tuesday) to dispose of the recently-stranded humpback whale.

"This is no joke. This thing is massive, and it is starting to stink," Makina told The Namibian during the removal process which involved manpower, a road grader as well as a bulldozer, amongst others.

A huge trench was dug away from the ocean, and further south of Henties Bay, in which the estimated 13-metre 20-tonne carcass was going to be buried.

Makina said while some people may be tempted to eat whale meat, it was too spoiled by the time it was being moved. A barrier would be put around the 'grave' to warn people off for safety and health reasons.

"This is the first time that Henties Bay has endeavoured to bury such a big mammal. The dolphin project and the fisheries ministry advised us that this was the best way to dispose of it," he noted.

Although a high tide could take the carcass out to sea, the chances were good that it would just wash back on shore. Leaving it to decompose so close to a community was also considered a health and smell risk. Had it been in a remote area, scavengers such as birds and jackals would have made a relatively quick meal of it.

After a preliminary investigation, the head of the Namibian Dolphin Project, Simon Elwen, said he suspects that the female whale was about 24 years old (young adult), and may have starved to death.

He said "high die-offs" of humpback whales from 'nutritional stress' have been reported in several populations, and seem to be linked to the large size of the recovering populations - "that is, the population has recovered so much that they are battling to all find food".

The whale was still alive when reported on the beach early Monday morning. It died around noon. Project researchers took samples once the tide had subsided enough later that evening.

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