The burial of a dead four-metre sperm whale which had beached at Casuarina Beach on the Tweed Coast last week has caused a stink with locals who fear its rotting carcass could pose a health risk to beach users and also attract sharks to the area.
The 3.8-metre whale calf was found by locals alive on the beach on Monday 4 January, but died soon afterward and two days later it was buried using heavy machinery in the dunes between two access tracks south of a tourist resort at Casuarina.
Staff from Seaworld on the Gold Coast and NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) were called to the site where the whale had stranded.
An NPWS spokesman said the whale had some minor injuries consistent with stranding as well as some smaller shark bites.
But he said there were no obvious signs of why the whale stranded or died.
‘Tissue sample were taken. The carcass was buried in the hind dunes,’ the spokesman told Echonetdaily.
But Casuarina resident David Logue says the whale carcass should not have been buried there but taken to a tip to dispose of, as Gold Coast City Council does.
Mr Logue said the burial has ’raised the ire of a number of residents whose families are regular beach users, business owners and members of a local surf lifesaving club’.
He said the rising tide the other day came within metres of the burial pit of the carcass, and wave action could expose the decomposing carcass ‘in this tourist and residential area’.
Mr Logue said the burial had occurred at the beginning of the annual cyclonic-weather season which regularly caused erosion along the beach there.
He said the carcass’s natural decomposition ‘will leach oil, blood and other body fluids through the sand and into the nearby surf where hundreds of people swim, wade and surf each week’.
‘The decomposition of the carcass can leach upwards absorbing the sand layer to create a jelly‐like putrefying pit of flesh, producing an awful stench which will in turn attract vermin,’ he told Echonetdaily.
‘I am advised that this occurred on the Gold Coast some years ago. I also note signs erected in this location warning of the recent harassment of people by wild dogs.
‘Naturally I, along with other residents that I have spoken with are gravely concerned that the above actions will attract sharks to the stretch of beach and will continue to do so as the carcass decomposes, leaching through the sand and into the sea in a drip‐fed manner over an extended period of time.
‘Although this may have been an adopted practice in the past, we consider it to now be inappropriate due to the unacceptable risk it poses to the safety of beach users.
‘These risks extend to the broader Tweed economy as it coincides with the well‐reported high volume of shark attacks and shark activity within the northern rivers region.
‘Moreover, this stretch of beach between Cabarita and Kingscliff is no longer the scarcely populated area it used to be. As you would be aware, development and population along this stretch has considerably increased over the last 15 years with a further spike in the last two years.
‘It continues to intensify with current high volumes of construction activity and the anticipated approval of the final “central” stage of the Casuarina Beach development, adjacent to the shopping centre. This stage is also adjacent to the burial pit of the whale carcass,’ he said.
Mr Logue said he’d been told that to remove such risks, Gold Coast City Council ‘removes all whale carcasses from the beach and disposes of them in the council tip’.
‘However, I am also advised that whale carcasses in Ballina shire are buried on the beach in the same manner as this one. The shark-attack statistics and subsequent media coverage between these two LGAs over the last several years is stark.
‘Accordingly, to remove the risks posed through the attraction of sharks to the area by whale carcasses I propose that all whale carcasses or other carcasses of significant mass are removed from the beach and disposed of at a council tip.’
Mr Logue has asked Tweed shire deputy mayor Gary Bagnall to lobby for such a policy and to ‘arrange for the removal and disposal of this whale carcass and any residue in the pit from its present position on Casuarina Beach to a council tip as a matter of urgency’.
Cr Bagnall said he would ask fellow councillors at this month’s meeting that ‘we develop a policy to cover the beaching of sea animals and large kills of fish ‘so we have clear direction how to respond to these types of incidents in the future’.
He said locals had expressed concern over the burial site and he had ‘asked the council to investigate the appropriateness of the site’.
‘I believe that the Gold Coast council removes dead animals from their beaches because of the population there.
‘It would be appreciated if incidents, such as this, could reported to our council in future. Our council now has to deal with the concerns of the community and the council was left in the dark’.