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Enormous Dead Oozing Whale Covered in Barnacles Washes up on Beach

Newsweek 11/29/2022 Jess Thomson
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The carcass of a huge humpback whale covered in barnacles and oozing body fluids found washed ashore has now been removed.

The whale was found on Strand Beach in Cape Town, South Africa on November 26.

"I've just had in that the actual weight of it was 26.6 tonnes [around 58,600 lbs], and it was 13.5 meters [44.3 feet] in length. The city do believe it [died from] natural causes. There is nothing sinister happening in the ocean at the moment. All the seismic blasting has been halted that we're aware of," Lisa Starr, the founder of the Helderberg Ocean Awareness Movement in South Africa told Newsweek.

Seismic blasting is a method of surveying the seafloor for oil and gas deposits using high-powered bursts of sound. This has been found to deter whales, dolphins and porpoises from coming nearby, and potentially damage their hearing.

Protesters rallied against Shell's use of seismic blasting on South Africa's Wild Coast. The oil giant stopped the practice in the area in late 2021 and eventually had its license revoked by Makhanda High Court in September 2022.

"Nobody can tell [the actual cause of death] without an autopsy being carried out, but as you can imagine, that's extremely difficult," Starr said.

A sample was taken from the body to investigate if there were any other factors involved in the whale's death, Starr said in a comment on a Helderberg Ocean Awareness Movement Facebook post regarding the carcass.

The whale's head. Marileze, La-Fé Studio © Marileze, La-Fé Studio The whale's head. Marileze, La-Fé Studio The whale's baleen. Marileze, La-Fé Studio © Marileze, La-Fé Studio The whale's baleen. Marileze, La-Fé Studio

The whale carcass was eventually removed from the beach by the city authorities, as leaving it to rot on the sand or back in the ocean can cause a number of issues.

If left on the shore, the whale will begin to rapidly decompose, with bacteria inside the body producing large amounts of gas as they break down the tissue.

"If the rest of the body is still intact – if the outer layer, the blubber, is still intact and not broken up – then it can lead to an explosion," Olaf Meynecke, a scientist at Griffith University's coastal and marine research center, told The Guardian earlier this year. This exact thing occurred in 2004 in Taiwan when the stomach of a dead whale was punctured, causing a deluge of rotting flesh on the town.

Even if it doesn't explode, the body will begin to smell extremely bad, putting off beachgoers and attracting scavengers of all forms.

"It wasn't really smelling when it first came in, and it wasn't too bad on the day—it smelled a lot worse before. After it had been rolled around quite a lot though, its body fluids were oozing out from the skin," Starr said about the Cape Town carcass.

If pushed back out to sea, this can be avoided, however, towing such a large mass far enough out and calculating the currents that will ensure it won't wash back to shore—attracting sharks back to the areas where people swim and surf—is an expensive feat.

"It will be hauled up onto a truck and taken to Fishermans Corner where he will be buried," Starr commented on the Helderberg Ocean Awareness Movement Facebook post. "It's a landfill site. But there is a space where all the carcasses go."

The bizarre sight of the whale being taken away on the back of a truck can be seen in a TikTok.

The carcass will then be buried and left to decompose naturally beneath the ground.

Do you have an animal or nature story to share with Newsweek? Do you have a question about whale strandings? Let us know via nature@newsweek.com.

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