Stranded whale euthanased – with a bomb

The stranded humpback whale before it was euthanased on Kabeljauws Beach in Jeffreys Bay on Tuesday.
The stranded humpback whale before it was euthanased on Kabeljauws Beach in Jeffreys Bay on Tuesday.

A bomb was used to euthanase a stranded whale on a Jeffreys Bay beach on Tuesday.

Whale specialist Dr Stephanie Plön said the decision had not been taken lightly.

“The whale was about 11m [in length] and, when an animal is that big, refloating it is not an option,” the Nelson Mandela University marine biologist and Coastal Stranding Network member said.

“Injury could have been done to its spine or tail and, if it had panicked, it might have injured people as has happened in the past.

“It could also not be left lying on its belly in the sand, where it would have slowly suffocated to death.

“This was the most humane alternative.”

Plön said the humpback whale was initially spotted swimming up and down behind the backline off Kabeljauws Beach on Monday and stranded at about 5pm.

The National Sea Rescue Institute investigated, then alerted other members of the Coastal Stranding Network and Plön before dawn on Tuesday.

“Humpback whales are weaned from their mothers at about six months old when they are 8-10m, so this one was a bit over a year old,” Plön said.

“Its eyes were open, it was breathing and moving its flippers around.

“There were also no visible injuries, or fishing net or cable entanglements.

“But because of its size, we had a problem.”

Plön consulted further with a veterinary surgeon and with the department of environmental affairs as per protocol.

“It was very sad because the whale was still alive.

“But the team’s considered decision was that it would have to be euthanased,” she said.

Expert members of the police bomb squad, who had already been briefed about the whale, had by then arrived.

“They placed a charge on the whale’s head to ensure the explosion would directly penetrate its brain,” Plön said. “There were about 30 members of the public watching and parents were asked to remove their children to avoid any trauma.

“The charge went directly down into the brain.

“The whale died instantly.” Humpback whales live 50100 years.

They have huge, wing-like dorsal fins and sing “whale songs” by forcing air through their nasal passages.

There are about 80,000 humpbacks on the planet.

Indian Ocean humpbacks migrate in winter from the Antarctic up through SA waters, then to East African waters before returning in spring.

Plön said the Jeffreys Bay whale could have been returning early to the Antarctic or chosen not to make the full migration north.

Kouga municipality spokesperson Laura-Leigh Randall said a municipal cleanup team was still on site on Tuesday afternoon.

“The tide is coming in, but the whale has been anchored by a cable to a tractor so it doesn’t get dragged out to sea.

“They are using two loaders and a winch to lift the whale onto a flatbed truck, after which it will be taken to our regional waste site at Humansdorp,” Randall said.