It turns out disposing of the whale calf which died this past Tuesday, 21st August, in the shorebreak off Pipeline Beach was actually a bit of a hack. Literally. Just take a look at the images above and below, catch my drift? eThekwini Municipality spokesperson Mandla Nsele issued the following statement:
“The city is aware of the whale that beached. The whale was secured and confined by officials from the relevant City Departments and Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife. It was dead by the time we were notified. A rope has been secured around the carcass and the staff are waiting for the tide to go down before the whale will be cut up and disposed of according to protocol,” Nsele said.
When questioned on the status quo of dealing with a beached whale, Cllr Andre Beetge had the following to say “We are faced with a situation where a humpback whale calf of about two-years-old and weighing between six and seven tonnes, beached and died from unknown causes”.
For obvious reasons, the whale cannot be left to decompose naturally and as there are no resources to tow it out to sea, parks officials have recommended and the municipality has requested authorisation for the following course of action, to remain in compliance with guidelines:
1. That the carcass is anchored to a TLB (which has already been done) in anticipation of the high tide.2. To ensure it remains secured to the TLB while the carcass is elevated by the tide.
3. This would ensure the carcass remains on dry land when the tide turns, with access to officials from 3 pm onwards.
4. All available resources, including human and logistical, as determined by the local parks department management, be authorised to remain on duty with compensation, to dissect and dispose of the carcass in the minimum time.
5.That this same formula be applied by Durban Solid Waste (DSW), in close liaison with the parks and beach management, to provide the required resources between Pipeline Beach and the Vulamehlo landfill site.
6. That DSW further arrange the necessary resources to ensure the landfill site remains open and available for the disposal of the carcass after hours.
The assumption is the sub-adult humpback whale, between 5 and 6 meters in length, died after thrashing about in shallow waters in the early hours of Tuesday morning said Jennifer Olbers Marine Ecologist at Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife. Olbers said she cannot speculate on why the whale stranded itself on the beach until proper tests were done.
Alright, so I guess this all seems pretty procedural right? Kinda like how the shark sightings were dealt with at the JBay Open. But what about the people chopping up the little guy, is this legal and does it pose any health risks? Well, backed up by claims from city officials whale meat is not harmful and can be consumed by humans. However, in this instance it may not be advisable due to the reasoning behind whales stranding themselves in the first place, they could have been, and often are, ill.
Think of it as road kill, would you line up to get a mouthful of carrion? Maybe you fall into the 0.00001% that will be licking their chops at the site of mangled up afval, me however, I think I’ll give it a hard pass. But I’m not lining up for any meat so perhaps my opinion is a little biased and warped, right? Or is it my westernized brain speaking, where it views eating whale meat as ‘taboo’. I’m not so sure really, to be honest. In light of the images and drone footage captured by Gerhard Britz and the comments that accompanied them, as well as similar scenarios in the past expressing disgust and outrage, I felt it necessary to unpack the issue. So here goes.
The hunting of whales, or whaling, has been a part of life for many coastal communities for centuries. Initially, it would have stemmed from a subsistence industry, wherein entire communities would band together to kill a whale or two. Winters back in the day must have been harsh, like scenes out of the Revenant harsh, so having a stocked food reserve would’ve been quintessential. Then with the advent of the industrial revolution, whaling quickly transformed in scale and nature.
From the 17th century onwards, American, British and European whalers would have gradually expanded their operation until whales were being slaughtered in every ocean. Oil accounted for the primary reason to harpoon these gentle giants. The oil was obtained from the whale’s blubber, used for lighting up your local tavern whilst getting sloshed off grog and swapping manly stories of your exaggerated maritime conquests. Can you imagine?
Following on from this whale flesh was used for margarine, cosmetics, and other specialised industrial applications. Some whalers used the meat, and some did not. As refrigerators were non-existent, it was next to impossible to make use of all the slaughtered whales meat. Therefore only the most valuable bits of the marine mammal, i.e its blubber and baleen, were kept. The rest was gooi’d overboard like a seasick sailors lunch. Nowadays, seeing that oil derived from whales is about as necessary as a square peg for a circle hole, whales are now slain on the high seas for their meat. Okay cool, history lesson over. Let’s move on.
Despite the large amount of southern right and humpbacked whales in our waters, South Africa has some of the most progressive protective legislation for whales and other cetaceans and outlawed commercial whaling in 1975. The International Whaling Commission, which was founded by the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW) in 1946, voted to enforce a moratorium on commercial whaling in 1986.
In response, Norway lodged a formal complaint at the time, so it continues to hunt whales legally today. Japan utilises a handy loophole, slaughtering more than a thousand whales every single year in the name of “scientific research”. Yeah, sure Japan, cool story bro. As whale meat is freely available in Japanese food markets and restaurants, cynical observers can be forgiven for saying that the research consists of finding new and better recipes for whale meat.
A few coastal communities continue what they call “traditional hunting,” which is usually on a small scale. Then there are those countries that are not signatories to the ICRW. As a result, they are not bound by the moratorium. I can also say with certainty that a number of ‘opportunistic’ whalers operate entirely outside of the law. The good news is that in the past couple decades whale populations have increased dramatically since the inception of the moratorium.
You don’t have to be Sir David Attenborough to see why this would pass as good news. I can confidently say that if not for the moratorium and strong legislation like that in South African waters, many species of whale would now be extinct. The darker side to the good news is that those member nations that want to continue or resume commercial whaling use these increased population numbers as an indication that whaling can now be sustainable.
What was the point of this little ramble? For me, it was about learning to be more objective, by putting emotions aside. When we see images like the ones scattered in this piece, it’s easy to let our own personal agenda cloud our judgment. Words like barbaric, savage, and wrong are often uttered in response, especially from our fingertips as we jab away at our expensive laptops. For others words like opportunity, income, and food spring to the forefront of our consciousness. An atrocity was not committed here, resourcefulness took over. Was it legal? No. Were the actions of the people seen ‘butchering’ or ‘desecrating’ this juvenile humpback justified? Maybe. I guess it depends who you asking.