By Michael Giles
Bunurong Environment Centre Education Officer, Mike Cleeland, has shed some light on what may have caused the death of Phillip Island’s beached Sperm Whale.
In an interview on Gippsland ABC Radio this week, he has claimed that scars or “sucker marks” on the side of the whale carcass indicate that she might have been engaged in a losing battle with a giant squid upwards of 1000 metres below the surface of the sea, before succumbing and finishing up on Forrest Caves Beach last weekend.
“Yes, the sucker marks particularly on the front side of the body, just like the other one I saw on Phillip Island many years ago, I think it was during the 1980s that another Sperm whale was washed in at Magiclands (Cape Woolamai).
“They both had these sucker marks of up to about 10 centimeters diameter and it’s thought that they’re from battling with the giant squids. These sperm whales dive down to a kilometre or more in depth to feed on the giant squids but if they come up to a squid and the squid tries to defend itself by wrapping itself around the Sperm whale, they finish up with these sucker marks and that was apparent on this one at Forrest Caves.
“Giant squid are an important part of the Sperm whale’s diet and they will dive very deep to try and get them, they’re big and juicy and meaty and the Sperm whales can’t get enough of them.”
Mr Cleeland said it wasn’t often that a Sperm whale would come off second-best to a giant squid but it happened.
He said whales regularly washed up on the Victorian coast and around the world with an estimated 300,000 Sperm whales circulating the globe.
“They usually die of natural causes,” he said.
“This one is a big adult female. There’s no obvious cause of death so it may have simply have reached the end of its natural life and washed in on its nearest beach here on Phillip Island.”
But he says the whale has the scars to prove it was in a serious fight and whether that finished her off, we’ll never really know. Authorities took samples away to be tested but the whale wasn’t opened up to see if human waste, plastic and the like, was a contributing factor.
Mr Cleeland said that unlike mass strandings of whales, like the one involving 27 whales in East Gippsland in the 1980s, which were “a real worry” because the cause wasn’t know, isolated whale deaths like the one at Forrest Caves were all part of the circle of life.
Mr Cleeland, who is a local scientist and dinosaur expert, acknowledged that leaving the whale on the beach to break down was the only practicable solution.
“They could have tried to tow it offshore in the initial stages but it might simply have come back in a more inconvenient location,” Mr Cleeland said.
“They couldn’t get earthmoving equipment down to the beach in this area so it was the only thing they could do,” he said, also noting that the whale was giving off quite a smell as it decomposed.