Whale disposal costs thousands

2019-07-09 06:00
A male Brydes whale was killed in an octopus fish trap last month, costing ratepayers about R50 000 to dispose of.

A male Brydes whale was killed in an octopus fish trap last month, costing ratepayers about R50 000 to dispose of.

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One more whale entangled in fishing gear at Buffels Bay near Cape Point had to be attended to on Sunday 30 June, the South African Whale Disentanglement Network (SAWDN) confirmed.

Disentanglement or disposal of carcasses when whales die is a public concern as it costs the ratepayers heavily.

Octopus and lobster fisheries have come under scrutiny by the public and several animal protection organisations after two whales became entangled in the fisheries’ gear last month; with only one surviving.

The third and most recent entanglement last week came even after octopus fishing traps were temporarily banned by the minister of forestry, fishery and environmental affairs, Barbara Creecy.

The ban was instated as a result of an online petition by a local resident Allison Thomson in a call to stop octopus fishing in False Bay. “The two whale entanglements on Saturday 8 June and Monday 10 June caused the unnecessary and avoidable death of a Brydes whale,” she said. The petition garnered about 26 000 signatures.

The last two deaths are part of the six total whale deaths that have resulted from octopus traps in the past four years.

Ward councillor Aimee Kuhl added that part of the ban means ineffective or traps that are no longer being used must be removed, but this will take time. She also welcomed the ban. “I’m the ward councillor of a coastal ward and these whales are being tangled in the gear of an unsustainable fishing industry (octopus trapping). I don’t think that my ratepayers should have to foot the bill.”

Gregg Oelofse, the City manager of coastal management, explained that the disposal of whales is a costly exercise which usually falls within the range of R50 000 and R150 000.

“It depends on the size of the whale, it depends on the location – it depends on many things,” he said.

“When we dispose of large whales it causes quite a lot of damage to the shoreline; that’s why we prefer to tow them in the water to a slipway. Then there’s the cost of the trucks, sometimes we break the walls and barriers of the beach, and it is also costly to prepare the landfill site.”

He said that the latest entanglement where the Brydes whale was killed cost the City (and ratepayers) significantly less than it could have due to its smaller size.

In 2015 a 30 tonne whale had to be removed from Strand and according to Oelofse, that particular disposal cost in the range of R150 000, due to the fact that a great amount of damage was done and large numbers of personnel are activated in the City’s Coastal Management and Solid Waste portfolios to remove and transport the whale to a landfill site. He explained that whales in urban areas cannot decay naturally as this has implications on beachgoers. “The problem is that they are massive animals and 30 tonnes of blubber will take time to decay. The smell of the decaying blubber is terrible and it poses health risks for bathers. It also attracts sharks to the area.”

Despite the seemingly high number of whale deaths recently, Oelofse is still confident about the state of sea life along the City’s coasts. “We remove between 12 and 20 whales a year. The vast majority of death is natural mortality or ship strikes, and recently the entanglements of the octopus and lobster fisheries, but that is only a few.”

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