Ropes of whales: What happens after they die and how do authorities dispose of them safely? | whales

Two populations in Tasmanian waters within a week left nearly 200 pilot whales and 14 sperm whales.

on Monday, 14 juvenile sperm whales He died and washed ashore on King Island, in Bass Strait. Approximately 230 pilot whales Stranded on Ocean Beach, west of the Tasmanian town of Strahan, on Wednesday.

Tasmanian salads He said on Thursday They will move to “corpse recovery and disposal operations” in the coming days. But how to safely get rid of huge monsters?

What happens to animals after they die?

If the cetaceans are left ashore where they are stranded and die, their decomposition could pose a biohazard, said Dr Olaf Minneke, of the Center for Coastal and Marine Research at Griffith University. “Removing the animals is a major issue and something we kind of forget once the rescue mission is over.”

In warmer climates, the internal decomposition of dead whales can lead to spontaneous explosions. Gut bacteria in whales can multiply rapidly, producing large amounts of methane. “If the rest of the body is still intact — if the outer layer, the fat, is still intact and hasn’t broken apart — it could lead to an explosion,” Mineke said.

In 2004, the decomposing carcass of a sperm whale weighing 60 tons and 17 meters Exploded in a crowded street In the Taiwanese city of Tainan, “cars and shops are raining with blood and organs and stopping traffic for hours.”

Researchers will likely perform examinations on recently stranded animals, including autopsies to examine gut content, and to assess general health indicators such as skin layer thickness, Minnicki said.

Autopsies usually can’t be done a few days after the whale has died, because of the risk of explosion, he says. “It is actually part of the risk assessment… the animal should be evaluated beforehand and if there are signs of swelling in the gut area, the pressure should be released in the future. [of the necropsy]. “

“If there is anything useful, it is that the dead will have an opportunity to contribute to science,” said Dr. Vanessa Perrotta, a Macquarie University wildlife scientist, who described it as the bright side of a sad situation.

“We can learn more about their diet, their genetics, and how similar these individuals are to the previously stranded population,” she says, referring to 2020 mass delinquency event At the same location, where 350 pilot whales died.

How do you get rid of a dead whale?

Meneke said that whales that die ashore after being stranded should be pulled into the ocean. “They must be returned to the sea – that is where they belong.”

Sam Gerrity, of Southwest Expeditions, has been involved in the logistical effort after both the recent and 2020 mass series near Strahan. He said that the disposal included a “beautiful confrontation” process, which consisted of dragging dozens of bodies into the sea.

Dead pilot whales pulled out to sea after a mass stranding event in Tasmania in 2020. Photo: Sam Gerrity / Southwest Expeditions

Both decomposition and open-air burial have been tested after the 2020 pilot whale’s stranding, but authorities said they are not the preferred methods for the latest stranding. “Our first option would be to get the bodies away to the depths of the ocean,” Brendon Clark, an accident observer, said at a news conference Thursday.

But the logistics of the larger whale species are much more difficult than the pilot whales, which weigh up to three tons. “[For a sperm whale] We’re probably looking at 15 tons or more. “Once they’re not in the water, they get too heavy to be towed with normal equipment,” Meynecke said.

He said that burying whales should be avoided. “Getting rid of a sea animal on land is generally not a good idea. The animals will decompose much slower once they are buried… It will take months and it is a very slow process.”

In 2017, a council in New South Wales buried a 18 tons humpback whale At Nobbys Beach in Port Macquarie and then dug up a week later, due to community concerns about increased shark activity.

“If you have contact with groundwater, there is a possibility that it will seep into the ocean – it would potentially attract predators but … this has not been fully demonstrated,” Meynecke said.

A notorious case of whale disposal occurred in the United States in 1970, when the Oregon Highway Division attempted to get rid of a decomposing sperm whale by blowing it up with dynamite.

“The humor of the whole situation suddenly gave way to a run for survival as huge chunks of whale blubber fell everywhere,” one reporter said in a TV story that has now gone viral.

Meynecke described the incident as “evidence of human stupidity. We laugh about it, but it’s the same thing as burying something – just because we can’t see it, doesn’t mean it’s gone, and just because we blow it up doesn’t mean it’s gone – it’s only distributed in smaller pieces.” This creates more problems.”

What caused the mass stranding of whales?

The cause of mass whale stranding is still not entirely clear. Pilot whales – erroneously called because they are actually a large oceanic dolphin – are known to be the species most prone to mass stranding, because they are highly social and form pods of several hundred.

“They end up in these big groups, but they don’t know each other very well,” Mineke said. “If someone starts to panic…there is a lot of misunderstanding, because they actually don’t know each other and the calls make no sense to them.” He likened it to human panic at a concert or other crowd. “There’s this emotional pressure that actually drives them to constantly re-friend as well.”

Meneke said sperm whales, however, don’t usually congregate en masse, and the deaths of more than a dozen on King Island is worrisome.

“Perhaps it is no coincidence that these two species were stranded at similar times, because they may have been searching for prey near the islands,” he said. “We have had drastic changes in the marine environment related to climate change. This was also related to Stranding sperm whales in Europe in 2016.”

This incident has been linked to changes in water temperatures and the transfer of food sources to the shallow waters of the North Sea. “We may see more of these leads in the future,” Mineke said.

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