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WATCH: Beached whale was 'suffering, in process of dying'

07 November, 03:16 PM

"We may never know why the animal was stranded," Lieze Swart of the Department of Environmental Affairs (Oceans and Coasts) told News24, after an 11m sub-adult Humpback whale beached at Yzerfontein earlier this week.

Residents of the town, along South Africa's West Coast, battled to save the whale, but in the end the decision was made to euthanise the animal.

Gretchen Arnot, a resident of the town told News24 that "it was a very sad day".

Swart said the Department of Environmental Affairs was alerted to the whale at roughly 08:30 on Monday morning.

"The best estimate would be that it beached on the high tide during the previous evening," she said. 

But stranded whales typically don’t survive for very long.

"The larger the animal, the smaller the chance," Swart explained.

"Whales are not designed to be out of water where the natural saline buoyancy of the ocean supports their large body weights. Once out of the water, their own body weight immediately puts immense pressure on all of their internal organs." 

beached whale, yzerfontein, euthanised                                     An 11 m sub-adult Humpback whale, beached at Yzerfontein, earlier this week. Photo: Gretchen Arnot

She said the decision to euthanise the animal was not taken lightly.

"On arrival at the scene, the animal, though still alive, showed very little vigour - no tail or flipper flapping and a very lowered breathing rate.

"The animal was suffering and already in the process of dying," she explained.

Ocean conditions on the day (strong winds and a very choppy sea) would also have hindered any rescue attempts. 

READ: Yzerfontein residents battle to rescue massive stranded whale

The SAPS explosive unit assisted with the euthanasia.

"Due to the size of the animal, a small explosive charge was used to euthanise," Swart said, as it limits the animal's suffering and guarantees an immediate end.

"A much smaller animal would have been euthanised with a high powered rifle and a single shot through the brain, but it was impossible in this case." 

Samples were taken for DNA, isotopes, and to test for viruses, microplastics and toxicity.

The carcass is lying within the 16 mile marine protected area, but also within the Yzerfontein municipality, and it will fall to them to manage the carcass. 

Swart said whales washed up for several reasons: old age; disease or parasites; boat strikes; or something unusual like the swallowing of plastic bags.

"Hence the great effort worldwide to curb the level of plastic pollution in the ocean."

She offered some advice on what to do if a whale is stranded.

"Keeping the animal wet is the right thing to do. Pour the water gently, and take special care not to get water into the blow hole, as it would go into the whale’s lungs, essentially drowning it on land."

"It’s best to cover it with a wet sheet or towel and keep noise levels down," Swart said.

beached whale, yzerfontein, euthanised                                                       
Photo: Gretchen Arnot

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