Buried whale carcass sparks community anger in Victoria
The Ocean Grove surfing community has expressed alarm at a decision by authorities to bury a whale carcass near a popular beach, with fears it could attract sharks to the area.
The dead whale washed up on the shore last week and on Friday it was buried at Collendina, near Point Lonsdale.
The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) posted on Facebook that the carcass was buried in accordance with the Victorian Cetacean Emergency Plan.
"Due to the advanced state of decomposition of the carcass, burial was considered a safe and effective immediate method to secure the site for public safety," DELWP posted on Facebook.
Diggers preparing to bury the dead whale on a beach at Collendina, near Point Lonsdale (Facebook: DELWP)
A petition was created on Change.org to get the department to remove the carcass, with some residents concerned the oil and smell from the carcass would leech into the ocean, increasing shark activity at the beach.
There are more than 1,500 names on the petition, which was set up on the weekend.
"A shark warning remains in place for the area. A small amount of whale blubber was removed from the beach near Collendina and monitoring will continue to occur over the coming days," the department said.
'A matter of public safety'
The president of 13th Beach Boardrider, Christian Pritchett, said club members normally use the beach right next to where the whale was buried.
He said there had been a negative reaction in the local community to the decision to bury it, "especially [for] the people who are fearful already of sharks."
"It just seems to us like a half-baked attempt. There's enough examples around the country of what not to do [when a whale washes up] and what happens when you try to bury a whale," Mr Pritchett said.
"Hundreds of people use that beach. And there's been warm days and plenty of people have been making the most of it.
The whale was buried 2.5 metres below the sand on this beach. (ABC News: Nicole Mills)"It's a surf beach and Ocean Grove is a swimming beach and it's a matter of public safety."
There have been other cases where a whale carcass was dug up again after similar concerns were raised.
Mr Pritchett said burying the carcass 2.5 metres under the sand wasn't deep enough.
"The surf on the high tide goes right up to that area, so the sand is just going to wash away. The currents and tidal flow through that area is significant," he said.
When dealing with a whale carcass, the general protocol is to drag it into the ocean, or if that's not possible, to take the carcass to landfill.
DELWP said access to the beach was difficult and the boat ramp at Ocean Grove was unsuitable for the types of vehicles needed to take the carcass to a disposal facility.
"It's just a matter of doing it once and doing it properly the first time," Mr Pritchett said.
"The longer it's there, the more it's going to decompose and the harder it's going to be to scoop it up."
Surfing Victoria and Surfing Australia decided to cancel a junior national event scheduled at Ocean Grove on the weekend, due to the concerns about increased shark activity.
Shark activity research
James Tucker is a PHD student at Southern Cross University in New South Wales who has been researching the different methods used to dispose of a whale carcass.
Mr Tucker said there is no evidence yet that burying a whale carcass increases shark activity, based on the testing of samples of ground water from the area.
"We are doing the first research really in the world about this and we're still in the process [of doing it]," he said.
"There is anecdotal evidence to suggest that shark activity is increased when carcasses are floating, but once they're moved out of the water there's really no evidence to suggest anything either way.
"Sharks are very intelligent animals so do they stick around when there's no food? There are lots of questions to be answered."
He said people should avoid swimming after heavy rain near the carcass as it may increase the rate of which leeching may occur.
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