4 December 2017

Namibia: Beached Brydes Whale 'Deboned'

A group of fisheries officials last week cut the blubber and flesh from the rare Brydes whale carcass washed ashore at Mile 4 at Swakopmund recently.

They were working with the Namibian Dolphin Project to preserve what is hoped to be the first complete skeleton of this type of whale in the world. The skeleton of the 15-metre, 15 tonne, adult female whale will eventually be sent to the marine museum at Lüderitz.

Officials were clothed in oilskins, boots and gloves, and had nose and mouth covers against the stench of the decomposing carcass. Armed with sharp knives, the skin and thick layer of blubber first had to be pried off before the red meat could be removed from the bone.

The decomposing matter was to be buried, while the skeleton was to be cleaned, disassembled, moved and reassembled at the Lüderitz museum, one official explained.

The carcass washed ashore about two weeks ago.

Principal investigator of the Namibian Dolphin Project, Simon Elwen, said based on its large size and high number of 'cookie-cutter' shark bite scars, the whale had likely been from a deep-sea population.

Despite the whales being extensively caught in commercial whaling off South Africa and Namibia in the early 20th century, he said not a single complete skeleton of the species existed.

He added that while it was hard to say how it died, a large injury to the middle of the body may suggest a "ship strike", which is quite rare for Namibian waters. If further assessments revealed broken ribs or skull, then this would be confirmed, Elwen said.

Beached whale and dolphin carcasses provide scientists with a lot of insight into populations or species that are not easily available through other research methods.

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