Emergency Victoria has issued a warning that the beached whale will attract sharks to the area, for a long time it seems after authorities decided the dead whale was best left to break down naturally.

 

By Michael Giles

THE best option for the 16.6 metre dead sperm whale is to allow it to break down naturally after authorities ruled out burial or removal.

A dead female Sperm whale was washed up at Forrest Caves beach on Phillip Island on Saturday but became most visible to beachgoers at low tide on Sunday, prompting crowds of people to see what is a natural wonder.

Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) Incident Controller Matt Green addressed the issue on Sunday.

“The Sperm whale carcass is more than sixteen metres long, and was first reported on Saturday by members of the community, with Phillip Island Nature Park, DELWP and Parks Victoria staff heading straight out to investigate.

“We are taping off the area around the carcass for the times it’s exposed at low tide and have taken some samples that will be sent to Museums Victoria for research”, Mr Green said.

“As there are no obvious signs of injury which may have resulted in this whale’s death, no further investigation will be undertaken by DELWP.

“We will be leaving the carcass in place after our assessment of a range of options determined removal or burial with machinery would have too significant an impact on environmental and cultural values in the area.

“Allowing the carcass to break down naturally is also the simplest and most environmentally friendly method.

“We know the sight is attracting a lot of community interest, but it really is best for everyone to avoid the area.

“Traffic can often be challenging across the island in peak periods, and with the carpark full at Forrest Caves, extra sightseers are only adding to the issue.

“We’d also like to remind people that if they do head to this beach, you need to ensure you stay more than 300 metres away from the whale, and so do your dogs.”

Shark warning

Emergency Victoria issued a warning on Saturday, March 6 the whale may attract sharks and there have been reports of sharks sighted in the area from Woolamai to Surfies Point.

Mr Green repeated those warnings.

“The important Advice message warning beachgoers of the potential for extra sharks in the area will remain in place from Woolamai Beach through to Surf Beach, while we continue to monitor the situation” said Mr Green.

Ross McGrath of Rhyll was one of the first to see the whale at the weekend.

He said he’d seen one of the same species on the beach at Cape Liptrap but not locally on the island.

“I saw it yesterday (Saturday) when it was out on the sandbanks out there, but it’s been washed further up on the beach now,” he said on Sunday afternoon.

“There’s actually a dead dolphin further up the beach at Crazy Birds. I don’t suppose there’s any connection.

“I’ve never seen this many people at Forrest Caves before.”

Other visitors to the beach, Cathy and Parker from Melbourne, were interested in how the whale came to grief.

“It’s pretty amazing seeing the end of life especially when you come down and see them going past at the start of life as well,” said Cathy.

“But I’d like to know what happened too. I asked if they were going to do an autopsy because I’d like to know if it was humans, whether she’s got a gut full of plastics or what’s gone wrong.”

Background information:

  • It is an offence for people or their dogs to be within 300 metres of a whale.
  • Whales are protected under the Wildlife Act – regardless if they are alive or dead.
  • It is an offence under the Wildlife Act for members of the public to interfere, take or be in possession of parts of a dead whale.
  • The washing up of a dead whale presents a unique opportunity to study potential cause of death as well as other unique biological and ecological information. The information and samples taken will be accessible to researchers from around the world, through Museums Victoria.