Whale Burial On A City Beach? What The Hell Is The Port Macquarie/Hastings Council Doing?

20 Sep 2017 32

Nick Carroll

Senior Writer

Photo from ABC Mid-North Coast

Photo from ABC Mid-North Coast

COASTALWATCH | ENVIRONMENTAL NEWS

“IT MIGHT BE AN INTERESTING THREE TO FIVE YEARS”

Whale burial on a city beach? What the hell is the Port/Hastings council doing? You can help click here to see how.

Five days ago a 20-tonne humpback whale somehow arrived off the southern Port Macquarie beaches, dragging a tangled pile of fishing gear with it.

The poor thing had been thus encumbered since somewhere around Tasmania, according to marine rescue co-ordinator Geoff Shelton, and was thus as near death as a whale can be.

It was euthanised on the beach at Nobby’s, just south of Port’s main town beach stretch.

SEE ALSO: Sharks Are Back In The News & Where Are The Dead Whales

What happened next has baffled and angered locals. The Port Macquarie Hastings council, after first announcing it would be either towing the carcass out to sea or removing it to landfill, buried it on the beach. This was done after consulting with the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the whale rescue service ORRCA.

This seems like an almost insane test of the Dead Whale Hypothesis: the idea that buried whale carcasses create a significant shark risk in local waters, luring large dangerous sharks such as whites and tigers in close with an unfulfilled promise of one of their main food sources.

The hypothesis is currently being studied by researchers with the help of a Dept of Primary Industry grant. As for now, the council and its advisers can claim there is no scientific data on the topic. But the DPI receivers pinged at least eight separate white sharks following the whale in to shore when it beached; the next two months is prime migration season for humpbacks and their shark escorts. And next week it’s school holidays.

Needless to say, Port’s beaches are indefinitely closed.

We talked with Grant Hudson, longtime fantastic surfer and former Port chief lifeguard, to get some local perspective. “When you look at the geometry of the beach (at Nobby), it is hard to get on and off the beach, but there’s all kinds of run-off down the cliffs behind where the whale is buried,” he told us. “Plus it’s central to Port’s coastline. It might be a very interesting three to five years.”

Grant has noticed the same kind of increased shark presence along the beaches as did the Ballina/Lennox crew before the 2015 attacks. He finished up as chief lifeguard in mid-2015 and says “the last couple of years we were shutting the beaches a lot…we made council aware of the increase in sightings, so it hasn’t been an unknown.”

Lifeguards are waiting for the results of a council meeting to be held tonight. Quite a few of Port’s surf community will be in attendance — we’ll follow up here with a report on how it goes. A petition calling on the council to extract the carcass has drawn over 2500 signatures so far.

SIGN PETITION HERE.

*addenda to what the hell

We just spoke to Wayne Hudson of Port’s surf school, who attended this evening’s council meeting. The meeting was packed to the gills with concerned citizens.

Wayne, who holds an environmental science degree from Newcastle Uni, has a number of causes for concern, including the state of his surf school business. He sees the burial as hopelessly flawed: “They said it was clay, but you can see the hole was dug under the water table. It’s already beginning to crack and leak on the surface.” He’s tracked 21 shark hits on the DPI’s offshore smart buoy in the past two days.

There’s no real shark mitigation in the Port Macquarie area: no smart drumlines and no nets, just a shark spotter plane employed by the DPI which does an occasional fly-by. A white shark = attack off Lighthouse Beach two years ago on local bodyboarder Dale Carr, who suffered severe lacerations but was able to get back in the water, has been resolved in locals’ minds but hasn’t been forgotten.

He says that locals presented a rational case for removal to council, including costings for diggers and removal, and farm locations who were willing to take the remains for use as fertiliser. “It’s just a matter for them to consider now. We’ve given them every possible option, we’ve done all the work for them. It’s just a matter of what they decide to do.”

The burial site. Photo from ABC Mid-North Coast

The burial site. Photo from ABC Mid-North Coast


Tags: whales , port macquarie , nick carroll (create Alert from these tags)

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