30 July 2009

Photographing a dead whale

A large and very dead 12 meter long weighing about 40 tons Humpback Whale washed up just down the road from where I live. Of course I had to go photograph it; both out of curiosity and a need to educate people with images of nature.

It was not fun. The whale was leaking a whitish fluid, probably blubber (eau de baleen), into the rock pools around the carcass. This was giving the rocks a greasy sheen and transformed them into a skating rink. The pictures were easy to take as I just wanted to show how big the whale is and you can’t really ruin the impact and contrast of a 40 ton meatball compared to the average sized human. Got the pictures and sat on a rock and looked at the people. Interesting how people are interested in whales but remain unaffected by nature. Some people just spend a few seconds and others up to 30 minutes just staring at the animal.

According to the local museum the whale died of natural causes but I doubt it. Could be that the newspaper messed up the information. The whole head section of the whale is bashed in, something that indicates that a ship probably rammed into it. In Africa there is a lot of poverty and it was worrying to see that large chunks of blubber have been cut out of the animal. Hopefully there wont be too many upset stomachs and sickness caused by the rotten meat. Another aspect is traditional medicine and I wonder if the local sangomas have not used some of the whale for some or other medicine. In any case it is sad that the carcass can not be used for anything constructive and it will be left there to rot. Yes the local municipality will not remove it and I understand this as there are no people living in the immediate vicinity. It would also be a terrible job to remove the carcass. Local dive operators would be interested in towing out the carcass and anchoring it at sea in order to attract the Great White Sharks and other species that are common in the area. Unfortunately the whale washed up during spring tides and it is high on the rocks. The marine topography in the area is too shallow and rough to attach ropes to a boat and tow it out. You would probably just sink your boat.

It was interesting to see a group of Abalone poachers diving in the area. With that entire whale flavouring the sea there are sure to be many sharks in the area.

When I got home my dogs (Wheatie, Wiccombe and Widget) were delirious with joy to see and smell me, attracted by the “eau de baleen” smell that clung to me, my clothes and shoes. My partner was very unimpressed! The whale fluids stink and I had to immediately wash myself and all my clothes. So if you ever have to photograph a dead whale you need to stay upwind, avoid the juices and do be careful of slipping on the rocks. Also ensure that you are not wearing fluffy boots and your best clothes.

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