A look at the dead-whale-on-a-beach dilemma

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(AP) – After a dead whale washed up on a beach in Malibu, Calif., near Bob Dylan’s home it wasn’t long before a foul smell was blowin’ in the wind and residents were demanding answers. Although dead whales don’t often arrive in wealthy neighborhoods, they do come ashore on beaches across the country fairly frequently. Getting rid of them is often not easy.

WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR GETTING RID OF A DEAD WHALE?

In this case there is disagreement, because the 41-foot mammal ended up on a private beach. Malibu officials say they aren’t sure who should haul it away. The Los Angeles County Department of Beaches and Harbors says it isn’t responsible because the whale is on private property, meaning it’s up to the owners to get rid of it.

CAN LOS ANGELES COUNTY LIFEGUARDS HAUL IT AWAY?

Maybe, but that agency says it may big too big for one of its Baywatch boats to handle. They say it could require a tugboat like those used to guide giant ships in and out of ocean harbors. The lifeguards have indicated they’ll try when the tide is right.

WHY DO WHALES WASH UP ON BEACHES?

Experts say some simply die of natural causes. Others become ill. Some seem to have gotten confused and lost their way. This one, a young fin whale, appears to have been hit by a ship because its spine was damaged and its back contained a large gash. A 47-foot whale found dead on a beach at the Point Reyes National Seashore suffered a similar fate in June.

HOW DO AUTHORITIES DISPOSE OF A DEAD WHALE?

Experts recommend either using a boat big enough to haul it away at high tide or burying it in the sand. The first option requires dragging it far enough so that it won’t float back. The second requires large, expensive digging equipment. Sometimes, if the whale ends up on a deserted beach and not anywhere near a wealthy neighborhood, authorities can just leave it there for nature to take its course. That’s what they did with a 30-foot gray whale that washed up on a beach near San Simeon last April.

HOW AUTHORITIES SHOULDN’T DISPOSE OF A DEAD WHALE:

By blowing it up. They tried that on a 41-foot sperm whale that washed up on a beach in Florence, Ore., in 1970. The blast rained blubber down on spectators a quarter mile away, including one chunk so large it crushed a car. The effort did result in a dramatic video that can be viewed here.

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