Thursday 27 October 2016

Authorities remove 12-tonne washed-up whale from beach

Linda Stewart

Published 07/10/2015 | 09:11

The cost of disposing of the huge whale that washed up on a Northern Irish beach will run into thousands of pounds, according to the National Trust.

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The charity, which manages the popular Blue Flag beach, moved quickly to get the gigantic carcass off the  Portstewart Strand sands, transporting it to nearby Craigahulliar landfill site for disposal.

The quick-thinking staff have avoided the problems they faced in 1992 when a 31ft minke whale live-stranded and died on the beach. At the time they were overwhelmed by sightseers, with children climbing on the back of the beast and two trophy hunters cutting off its tail.

Site manager Barry Crawford said the trust was responsible for dealing with anything that washes up on shore and the cost has run into the thousands, although the final bill is not yet known. It took three diggers to remove the female whale on Monday night.

"There's the hire of plant equipment, the transport, using a haulage company. But if we had left it on the beach for a number of days we'd have needed to cordon off the area and the smell would not bear thinking about," he said.

"There were hundreds of visitors. The cars were streaming onto the beach, but the facilities weren't open at that time of year.

"We had to go to a specialist firm. They used two diggers and they had to put strapping underneath the carcass. Then a third digger was needed to haul it onto a 45ft trailer.

"The animal was 12 tonnes at least, so it was a major operation."

Last night scientists examining the carcass revealed that it was actually a juvenile fin whale - the second biggest whale species on the planet - and not a minke or sei whale as previously thought.

They took samples for a DNA database and carried out an examination to determine if the whale had been killed by a ship collision.

After the animal has been examined by scientists from the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI), it will probably be disposed of by landfill, Mr Crawford said.

"We have used incineration to dispose of smaller animals such as dolphins, porpoises and cattle, but this is so big that we've been advised to take it to landfill," he said.

DoE Marine Division senior scientific officer Joe Breen said it could take days or even weeks for staff from AFBI to determine the cause of death.

They will take samples that can be used for genetic barcoding as part of a national stranding database, he said. "It could be a post-mortem, although it would be difficult in such a big animal."

The carcass was swept onto rocks below Dominican College in Portstewart on Sunday.

But it then floated back out to sea, only to wash in at the Barmouth further along the coast on Monday morning.

Belfast Telegraph

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