The bloated carcass of a whale the length of a bus has been found at a remote beach in the New Territories’ northeastern tip.
The 10.8-metre-long animal, found beached in an inner bay off Hung Shek Mun, in Plover Cove Country Park, was thought to be a female Bryde’s whale.
When marine experts arrived yesterday morning, the rotting carcass was lying partially submerged in the shallow water, giving off a stench. It had a number of cuts on its body.
About 10 government and Ocean Park experts in protective gear were still inspecting the dead whale early yesterday evening. Police said a hiker had reported seeing a “huge fish” floating off Hung Shek Mun on Saturday evening.
“It looks like a Bryde’s whale,” Dolphin Conservation Society chairman Samuel Hung Ka-yiu said after seeing footage and pictures of the animal on the news. “It could have died at sea and then drifted in.”
Hung said it could have been dead for a couple of days since the carcass was bloated.
The authorities have yet to decide how to dispose of the dead whale. One option would be to cut up its carcass and remove it piece by piece.
Bryde’s whales, which can grow up to about 15 metres and weigh up to 40 tonnes, prefer warmer waters. Males are usually slightly smaller than females.
In 2009, a 10-metre-long humpback whale was spotted in Hong Kong waters. It was believed to be the first sighting of the species in the city. Experts believed the animal accidentally entered Hong Kong harbour after getting lost.
In 1994, the carcass of a Bryde’s whale was found in Tolo Harbour.
On the 12th of April 1955, a 9m long juvenile male finback whale (Balaenoptera physalus) was found dying in Victoria Harbour. It was subsequently humanely killed and towed to Aberdeen where it was cut into pieces. The meat was given to refugees while the skeleton was stripped of flesh and dried. Later it was put together and mounted at HKU. Because of damage to the skeleton, the mounting was refurbished in the 1990’s and the skeleton is now on display in front of the main building of the Swire Institute of Marine Science at Cape D’Aguilar.
On July 21st 2003 at about 9am, a sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus) stranded alive on Tai Wan Beach in Sai Kung. The thought of any large whale in Hong Kong waters always surprises, but one as special and unique as a sperm whale is even more surprising.
Sperm whales are the largest toothed whales and get their unusual name from an oily waxy tissue in their head called “spermaceti”. They live in deep water and can dive deeper and longer than any other cetaceans – up to 2000m deep. They generally live offshore in water over a thousand metres deep where they feed on large squid and octopus. They tend to live in stable and long-term social groups, and they can live for up to 60-70 years.
Hong Kong waters are generally shallow and less than 40 m deep and not suitable for sperm whales. The sperm whale which stranded alive at Tai Long Wan Beach marked the first officially recorded sighting in Hong Kong. Previously the last recorded sighting in the wider Guangdong Coast was back in the 1950s.
With the help of Google and Project Gutenberg I have found much earlier record before 1899, though it is somewhat vague as to the exact location. In a book called ‘The Cruise Of The “CACHALOT”, Round The World After Sperm Whales’ by Frank T. Bullen, F.R.G.S., First Mate, published in 1899, the following mention occurs: “But, to the surprise of all, when we had arrived off the beautiful island of Hong Kong, to which we approached closely, we “raised” a grand sperm whale.”(Chapter 13). “Raised” here means caught and killed. It is not an official record, but I think the first mate of a whaling ship will have known how to recognize his primary target…
So sperm whales are no strangers to the offshore waters near Hong Kong and it shouldn’t surprise us too much that they may stray into shallow water. It is likely that the stranded animal at Tai Long Wan was sick, separated from its main pod, or drifted off course by the currents of two tropical depressions in the area at that time.
Chances of a rescue were slim from the outset as the whale probably already suffered from internal bleeding with its massive weight – no longer buoyed by water – exerting crushing pressure on the internal organs. Even if it had been successfully pulled out to sea again, it would not have been able to find food in the Hong Kong waters and would have been far from the deep water it normally lives in. A re-stranding would have been very likely. Sperm whales have hardly ever been rescued from beaches and released back to the ocean successfully.
The decision was made for a government veterinarian to euthanize the animal to prevent further unnecessary suffering.
A year after this stranding on the 24th January 2004, a sperm whale stranded on the coast of southern Taiwan, making headlines because the carcass famously exploded from the build up of decomposition gases while lying on a trailer on route through a small town (you can simply google: “exploding whale” for dozens of sites and archived news reports…). Five years later, on the 15th of January 2008 another sperm whale stranded on coast of Fujian (China Daily article with images) at a beach near Songxia Port in Changle. This was followed by a bigger stranding this year (2012) in Jiangsu Province where 4 sperm whales were stranded on March 16th. Let us all hope that this is not the start of a trend along the China coast.
All below images are courtesy of the Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society (HKDCS). If you enjoyed this article and the images, please consider a small donation to the HKDCS to support their excellent work. Oh – and please rate my blog and leave a comment. Thanks!
In 2009 an unfortunate humpback whale strayed into Hong Kong waters in the east Lamma Channel. Below is a youtube clip of this momentous occassion as well as some pictures from an AFCD publication (not linked here, as its in Chinese).
Humpback whale sighted at Lei Yue Mun
Thursday, March 26, 2009
The humpback whale has been sighted at Lei Yue Mun by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) and experts today (March 26).
As Lei Yue Mun is a principal fairway, the Marine Department has reminded vessels to exercise caution when navigating.
An AFCD spokesman appealed to the public to refrain from sailing out to disturb the whale.
“The whale appears normal. Experts believe that it is still capable of swimming to the open sea and finding its way back to its migration route. Minimising human disturbance will enhance its chances of heading home,” the spokesman said.
The spokesman said that the AFCD will continue to monitor the whale’s condition with the experts and relevant departments.
All cetacean species are protected under the Wild Animals Protection Ordinance (Cap 170). Irresponsible behaviour of whale watchers may constitute an act of wilful disturbance of protected wild animals, which is liable to a maximum penalty of $100,000 and imprisonment for one year.
There is a lot of information on the internet about the Sousa chinensis, the Indo-Pacific Humpback dolphin, also known as the Chinese White Dolphin or the Pink Dolphin, so I won’t repeat any of it here. Instead here are some links to organizations and people that deal with the topic full-time:
Although this incident happened not in Hong Kong but in Jiangsu north of Shanghai, in January of 2003 Hong Kong also had a sperm whale stranding. Sperm whales are large animals that roam large distances, so this stranding is relevant to Hong Kong marine life, too.
Four sperm whales that were stranded ashore on the 16th of March 2012 at Xintan Salt Field in the coastal city of Yancheng in Jiangsu province. The whales, including a female, were still struggling when they were spotted, residents said. Reports about the size of the whales varied widely, but the pictures speak for themselves:
After more than 24 hours of rescue attempts the four whales died. Five rescue plans were put forward, including using helicopters and large vessels to pull the whales back out to sea, digging water channels to re-float them and waiting for a huge rising tide. “But because of the size and physical condition of the whales, all plans failed,” said Xu Xinrong, an animal researcher from Nanjing Normal University who specializes in cetacean mammals. “Small-sized whales sometimes can be rescued when they are stranded on the beach, but mass strandings of big whales is fatal,” Xu said. It was China’s first mass beaching of whales since 1985, when six whales died in the Fujian province. New footage of the incident is available here.
It was later discovered that pieces of flesh had been cut from at least one of the whales’ bodies for food. On March 18, some pieces of the sperm whales’ flesh were found cut away for food, according to a report by China Radio International. The cutting was likely done at night and about 100 kilograms of flesh was removed. ChinaSmack has an article on the incident (please be aware, the article has some swear words) with translations of Chinese internet users discussions on the incident which show a great deal of respect for whales and their conservation. Here are some of the images of the mutilations from the ChinaSMACK website:
Sperm whales, though distributed in nearly all of the earth’s oceans, prefer deep waters and can dive to a depth of 2,200 meters, said Xu. Local authorities said that disposing of the whale carcasses was now a problem. “Generally there are three ways to dispose of a whale carcass: make a specimen of it, bury it on the beach or let the tides take it back into the ocean,” Xu said. In the end they buried the whales in deep pits on the beach.
Sperm whales have stranded in the region before. In January 2004 a sperm whale that stranded in Taiwan made headlines because while being transported on a trailer through a town, it exploded due to the build up of gas from decomposition, spraying surrounding pedestrians and buildings with offal and blood.