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Byron Shire
October 23, 2021

Stranded whale ‘not connected’ to surfer attack

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A Greys Beaked Whale, believed to be the type that stranded on Seven Mile Beach on Sunday. Photo marinemammalresearch.com
A Greys Beaked Whale, believed to be the type that stranded on Seven Mile Beach on Sunday. Photo marinemammalresearch.com

Chris Dobney

A whale that was found dead on Seven Mile Beach on Sunday, after apparently being bitten by sharks, had no connection to the shark attack on the same beach a week earlier, according to the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS).

The whale first came ashore on Saturday morning, according to NPWS spokesperson Lawrence Orel, and was pushed back to sea by locals.

He added the service ‘only became aware of the stranding after the fact’.

On Sunday the same whale came ashore dead and was buried by Ballina Council staff.

‘The animal had numerous a cookie cutter shark bites on it,’ Mr Orel told Echonetdaily.

Cookie cutter sharks are about the size and length of the forearm.

Mr Orel said the animals prey on marine mammals.

‘It latches on and twists its body and it cuts out a nice circular plug of blubber, leaving a round, open wound which is quite painful but not life-threatening.

‘Many whales have healed scars,’ Mr Orel said.

‘If it had larger shark bites on Sunday when it was dead, it was most likely once it had died. That’s also possible, but also perfectly normal,’ he added.

Mr Orel said it was ‘very unlikely’ that a shark attack killed the whale.

‘An important function of sharks is to pick up large carrion and feed on that.’

‘Given the nature of strandings, if they do come ashore, clearly there’s some underlying reason – they’re old or injured. If they get pushed back it doesn’t address the underlying cause.’

He added it was ‘extremely unlikely’ there was any correlation between the attacks on the whale and that of Byron Bay surfer Jebez Reicman a week earlier.

He said it was unusual for a beaked whale – this one believed to be Grey’s Beaked Whale – to strand.

‘They’re a deep-diving oceanic species feeding on squid and cuttlefish. We rarely see them inshore, let alone onshore.’

He added it was ‘not a problem’ that NPWS did not have the opportunity to examine the whale before it was buried.

‘The key thing is that we know where it is buried. You just let to need nature take its course. We do have the co-ordinates of the burial site so can go and recover the skeleton for later research,’ Mr Orel said.

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