Fin whale stranding at Cove Rock, East London

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Gentle giant loses battle of the big blue

By BARBARA HOLLANDS on June 21, 2016

Despite efforts by conservationists to rescue a stranded whale at Cove Rock on Sunday, the body of the 22m-long mammal was found washed up on the beach yesterday morning.

East London Museum’s principal scientist Kevin Cole said the 40-ton fully grown fin whale had probably died of exhaustion after it became lodged in a sandbar on Sunday morning.

fin whale DD

TRAGIC LOSS: A 40-ton fin whale that became stranded on a sand bank at Cove Rock was found dead yesterday morning despite efforts to save it on Sunday. Experts said the 22m – long, fully grown mammal probably died of exhaustion. Picture: STEPHANIE LLOYD

“Maybe it miscalculated the water depth and large wave action on Sunday which may have pushed it onto the sand bank,” he said.

While the whale had not been injured, it had signs of chafing from scuffing in the sand which had rubbed off an outer layer of skin.

“When I got here on Sunday morning it was in knee-deep water and had trapped itself in a trough of sand, so we tried to help it by getting sand off its fluke [tail] so it could at least move its whole body.”

He said aquarium, museum and SPCA staff at the scene had hoped the fin whale would free itself at high tide at 3pm on Sunday, but despite having “a lot of fight”, it could not muster up the energy to roll its massive body more than once.

“It eventually got its flipper up and rolled itself, but it needed to roll two more times to get flotation. It was losing energy and I could tell in its eye that it lost hope. It looked me in the eye a couple of times and I cried when I left it.”

He said although concerned members of the public had gathered at the scene to help, this had not been permitted because of the risk of the massive mammal rolling onto someone.

“It was too large and too powerful and it could also have seriously injured someone by flicking its tail.”

Cole said he had been “jubilant” when he heard on Sunday evening that the whale had swum away, only to find the information had been false.

“When I came here this morning and saw it had died, I was absolutely floored.”

Cole said that while fin whales occured in all oceans, they were usually found in deep water, unlike humpback and Southern Right whales that swam close to the coastline.

“I have never seen a fin whale and it’s a pretty rare stranding for us here.”

He said a decision would be made whether to perform an autopsy on the carcass. “It will then be cut up and some of it will be buried and its inner organs will go out to sea.”

When the Daily Dispatch reached the site yesterday morning, the dead whale was lying on the sand in a pool of blood after early morning anglers had cut out chunks of its body for bait.

Sergeant Philip Swanepoel of the port of entry police, said police were safeguarding the area.

“The carcass could be diseased and dangerous to eat,” he warned. — barbarah@dispatch.co.za

 

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About East London Museum Science

Conservation Biologist East London Museum South Africa
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