x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Skeleton of beached whale to be put on display

Fujairah Municipality officials have now buried the 13-metre sperm whale in order to hasten its decomposition.

A dead whale on the beach in Fujairah.

Credit: Shamsun Nahar Sherin
A dead whale on the beach in Fujairah. Credit: Shamsun Nahar Sherin

DUBAI // The complete skeleton of a whale that beached itself last week in Fujairah is to be put on display.

Fujairah Municipality has buried the 13-metre sperm whale to make the body decompose more quickly.

It will be dug up in a year when hopefully the only remains will be a fully intact skeleton.

Mohammed Al Afkham, the director general of the municipality, said the whale could be carefully mounted and put on display in the emirate.

“We rarely get whales that big on our coast,” Mr Al Afkham said. “It would be stupid if we just bury it and don’t think about putting it on display.

“This is good for kids and to educate people about whales.”

Officials at the municipality had considered stripping the carcass of blubber to gain quicker access to the skeleton.

“It was impossible because the whale was dead for 20 days in the sea,” Mr Al Afkham said. “It was smelling and was dangerous to clean it any other way.”

Burying whales to extract their skeletons for display is fairly common, said Andrew Wilson, who researches whales and dolphins at the Environment Society of Oman (ESO).

“That’s the easiest way to do it, as long as they’ve positioned it correctly on the beach,” Mr Wilson said.

“If they put it in the right place on the beach and it’s able to drain out and ooze properly, it will be a nice specimen in a year’s time.”

He said the whale should be buried in a dry area, as shallow as possible.   “If it goes too deep, at the water-table level, it will be just a rot,” Mr Wilson said.

The ESO has categorised three species of baleen whale and a species of sperm whale, which is common to Omani waters. But Mr Wilson said there were few of them around the Arabian Gulf.

“There are sightings of whales in the Gulf area,” he said. “But it’s probably by accident that they wander over there.

“We don’t think there’s a sufficient food source within the Gulf to sustain large whale populations. Even in Oman, it’s hanging in the balance.”

The sperm whale can grow up to 20 metres long and can dive as deep as 3 kilometres. It lives primarily on squid but also on fish.

The clicking noise it produces is the loudest sound made by any mammal, and it can live as long as 70 years.

David Edwards, the acting president of the Emirates Natural History Group – Fujairah, welcomed the decision to display the animal.

Mr Edwards, who is also a teacher at Fujairah Men’s College, said he would consider taking a class to see it.

“I think it’s interesting to show them that, although it lives in the sea it’s another mammal and shares a lot in common with us,” he said.

“By showing them the skeleton, there’s a real teachable moment there.”

The rarity of the whale and its sheer size attracted dozens of tourists on Friday.

Mr Al Afkham joked that he is now under great pressure to retrieve the skeleton.

“If we don’t find the bones, everyone will be upset,” he said. “Maybe they’ll bury me next to it.”