Nick Carroll On: The Bloody Obvious

20 Oct 2017 48 Share

Nick Carroll

Senior Writer

COASTALWATCH | ENVIRONMENTAL NEWS

Photo & Video by Glen Bowden

Maybe it’s time councils and States stopped playing this silly game with dead whales.

Reading yet another Council backdown statement on a badly handled whale corpse yesterday, it struck CW that this whole performance has been a bit silly.

It's the fourth wash-up in five weeks. The first one was on a mid-town beach in Port Macquarie, NSW. Council told people they would be removing it to landfill, then just buried it instead. Then the whole community got together and explained politely to the council that it wasn't acceptable to do so. They actually had to find the money for disposal. The council relented and dug it up.

The second one was at Kilcunda in eastern Vicco. The parks and wildlife people said they were going to get the council to bury it. The whole community emailed and phoned the council to politely explain that it wasn't acceptable to do so. The council didn’t bury it, nor did they remove it, because they couldn’t figure out how to get machinery down to the carcass. Instead, they were saved from the decision by the sea. The carcass was washed back into the surf zone and departed to points unknown.

The third one at Ballina, just down from South Wall, a few kilometres from the epicentre of the worst shark attack cluster in Australian history. Here the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage swiftly buried it about 80 metres back from the low surf high-tide line, and said it was safely out of the way. The whole community emailed and phoned everyone they could think of to explain politely that this wasn't acceptable. Then the Environment people said, Well we were only burying it temporarily, we'll dig it up and take it away today. Despite never having mentioned this temporary status in any prior public statement. Anyway, they dug it up.

The fourth one was last Sunday at Wurtulla, the local council swiftly buried it in the foredune behind the high tide line. The whole community emailed and phoned them to explain politely that this was unacceptable. Tough, said the council, we've been told by the Office of Environment and Heritage (Queensland version) that we should bury it there, so it's staying. Suddenly the issue got very hot, along with the carcass, which began spouting blood out of the dune. The Environment people said, Oh we just advised them, we didn't tell them what to do. Yes you did, said the council. Then, piously claiming some previously un-noted public safety concerns, they dug it up.

Can one discern a pattern here?

We contacted the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, and asked them these questions: What’s been the policy on whale carcass disposal to this point? And: given public concerns and the growing whale population, is it likely to change in any way in the future? Does the Office see any value in firm policy across all the authorities (local councils, National Parks, etc) who might be called to deal with a carcass? Or is it best dealt with on a case by case basis?

A spokesman replied with the following: “Each individual whale carcass is assessed so it can be dealt with in the best way by the relevant land managers involved depending on location. Public safety is our priority. In highly populated areas, and areas popular with swimmers and surfers, every effort is made to relocate the carcasses away from the beach – either taking it to a formal waste disposal site or burying it well behind the dunes in an appropriate location.The size, state of decomposition and access issues are considered when a carcass washes ashore.”

In other words, it’s a classic policy semi-vacuum. Coastal councils don’t have policies on what to do with massive whale corpses. They ask State Environment departments what to do, and are given what looks like an easy way out. This semi-vacuum is only filled when local surf communities and other citizens politely raise enough hell that the only sensible option is taken.

I guess we have to politely explain the bloody obvious to these varietal authorities. This whole game has changed. 20 years or so ago there were less than half the current number of whales in the Australian east coast migration. The whales do not acknowledge what State they wash up in, they just wash up. The carcasses are being tracked in to the shoreline by a fairly rapidly increasing population of great white sharks, who totally love fatty mammals. The human population of this coastline is also rapidly increasing.

Now, we do not have direct data linking whale carcass rot-down to an increased danger of shark attack on humans, but can we tell you, perhaps you do not want that kind of evidence surfacing on your watches.

This is not something you want to deal with piecemeal, to use a rather grimly inappropriate word. If public safety really is your priority, when the next whale washes up, don't play this silly game with it.

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