Nick Carroll On: Ballina's Turn On The Whale Carcass Merry-Go-Round

11 Oct 2017 18

Nick Carroll

Senior Writer

COASTALWATCH | LATEST NEWS

Bury it, get yelled at, then quickly dig it up — is this any way to treat a mammal?

It’s happened so swiftly, you may not have heard about it.

On Sunday a five and a half metre humpback calf washed up dead on the beach about a k south of Ballina’s South Wall.

The situation was a mirror image of what occurred just a few weeks ago in Port Macquarie.

Within a day, the National Parks and Wildlife Service had announced it would bury the carcass in the dune. By Monday afternoon, it had done so, telling astounded local surfers and other residents that the carcass was in sand 150 metres back from the shoreline.

It didn’t take a whole lot longer before video was circulating on the Insta surf grapevine, showing the burial site at the base of the foredune, significantly closer to the shoreline than 150 metres. “The water goes all the way up to it in a swell at high tide anyway,” local surfer-shaper Phil Myers told us. Cue a lot of pissed off emails and phone calls among the crew.

Cut to this morning, and suddenly the NPWS had announced it would dig the carcass back up as soon as the tide permitted and transport it to landfill, saying the burial was only ever intended as a holding move.

The NPWS has been responsible for numerous whale carcass dune burials over the years, along national-park coastlines on the NSW north coast and elsewhere. Typically the whale is left to rot down for years, then the skeleton is removed for study purposes.

You’ve gotta hope they weren’t ever thinking of just leaving this one there, within a couple of kilometres of beaches that recently saw Australia’s worst ever shark attack cluster.

While there’s no solid data yet compiled on the subject — a university team is working on that, with funding from the NSW Department of Primary Industry — many coastal observers believe that body fluids from rotting whale carcasses buried near the water table are potential sharkbait.

Whenever dead whales wash in, they’re accompanied by big increases in local shark activity. In the Port Macquarie case, a nearby smart buoy tag reader was triggered by 12 separate tagged white sharks within just a few hours of the whale coming ashore.

While Port Macquarie’s outcome was a pretty inspiring display of community activism and a responsive council, there’s something a bit ad hoc about how these events are being handled.

Take a commercial flight between Sydney and the Goldie right now, look out the window, and you’ll see whales leaping about everywhere. It’s awesome. But it’s not the 1970s any more, or the 1990s, or even 10 years ago. More and more carcasses will wash up, followed by more and more sharks.

Maybe it’s time for some clarity on how to deal with these incidents, rather than wait for local communities to react — or worse.

*CW is asking for comment from the NPWS and the DPI, and will report further when we get it.

Tags: sharks , whale , ballina , nick carroll , whale burial (create Alert from these tags)

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