TOWING the massive whale carcass on Newport Beach out for a sea burial would be a difficult and dangerous task, but still far more pleasant than the ”horrible” alternative.
The dead humpback became lodged in the beach’s ocean swimming pool before dawn today. It was refloated on the high tide, just before 8pm and tomorrow it is likely to be carved into pieces by chainsaw and knife, when it washes ashore again.
Six chainsaw teams, normally deployed cutting up trees by the National Parks and Wildlife Service, are standing by for the grisly job.
”It’s a horrible task, there’s no doubt about it,” said Geoff Ross, the co-ordinator of marine and fauna programs at the NPWS. ”It’s like when you are cutting up any large organism – parts of it are very hard to cut, the sights and smells evoke emotions, it’s extremely tough work.”
The 11.6-metre-long, 30 tonne humpback whale is thought to have died about three days ago, and the vast corpse was beginning to bloat with gas as it lay in the swimming pool.
The beach was closed to swimming and the whale body attracted a crowd of about 500, as well as herons, gulls, and a pair of falcons that observed developments from a nearby rock ledge.
Sections of the swimming pool’s fence were removed, and staff from the Office of Environment and Heritage and Pittwater Council hoped the dead mammal would float further down the beach on the high tide.
”Once that happens, we will move in and cut it up,” Mr Ross said. ”I’ll make an incision to let out the gas that’s building up inside, and then the chainsaw teams will get to work.”
Cutting up the whale means separate teams starting at the head and the tail and working inwards until the creature is divided into a series of large chunks of flesh and blubber, each weighing three or four tonnes.
”It’s a very difficult process and the chainsaws get blunted quickly, so we rotate teams regularly, with the whole process taking much of the day,” Mr Ross said. ”I’ll take the opportunity to do a quick necropsy, so we can see if we can work out why the animal died.”
Tissue and DNA samples would also be taken. Beached whales often also contain human pollution, such as clumps of plastic bags, Mr Ross said.
Once the carcass is cut up, it is likely to be taken by truck to a landfill site in western Sydney, where it will take several years to decay.
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