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LatestPhoto
A concerned crowd do their best to keep the dying sperm whale wet.
Photo: Courtesy of Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory.

October 23, 2001
A Sperm Whale Stranding in Darwin
  Real Audio
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Log Transcript

Genevieve Johnson

This is Genevieve Johnson speaking to you from Darwin, Australia.

Seven years ago, a 50 foot adult male sperm whale, weighing approximately forty tons was washed ashore at Casuarina, one of the cities most popular beaches. Although there is no coordinated network in place to deal with stranded animals of this magnitude, Parks and Wildlife officials did their best to save the dying animal. This unfortunate event was compounded by a rapidly receding tide, leaving the whale marooned and suffocating under its own body weight.

LatestPhoto
The whale is pulled up the ramp of the Larakea Naval Base in preparation for flensing.
Photo: Ian Archibald

Jarrod Archibald a Taxidermist and Preparator at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory recalls the event..

Jared Archibald - Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory.

The sperm whale that the museum has, stranded in Darwin harbor around 7 years ago. He came into the harbor a far as we know, quite sick and washed up on Casurina Beach. It is one of the main swimming and tourists beaches here in Darwin. It was a major public event to have this happen. Around 5,000 people went down to see the whale. It was advertised on the radio and so forth so word spread. It was alive when it washed in and stranded. It was on its last legs basically.

Rangers from (Australia) Parks and Wildlife and checked him out but there was not much that could be done. He was basically considered as something that couldn't be saved, there wasn't the manpower or the machinery to do it anyway. There was an attempt to do that but nothing could be done.

That night the carcass actually disappeared and washed back out to sea but it was found in the morning. It was towed by an army barge from around the Casurina Beach area to the Larakea Naval Base. It was there where it was lifted up on a huge 100-ton lift that takes patrol boats out of the water and puts them into maintenance shed. So it was lifted up onto there when the museum personnel were required to go down and work out what they were going to do and flense it off. Ian Archibald, he was flown up from Alice Springs to be part of that. No one had done anything like that before.

LatestPhoto
The carcass is loaded on board two dump trucks and taken to an old refuse site.
Photo: Ian Archibald

When you have 40 tons of 50 foot sperm whale laying on a huge life that is dead it begins to go 'off' in the tropical climate we have, it was not a fun job. The stench was incredible. It was something that people in Larakea won't ever forget and anyone that went down there will always remember the smell of rotting whale. There was a lot of interest from the public even when the animal died and it was said it was going to be used for the museum.

Because the museum personnel had never done anything like flensing something so big before, word was put out on the radio for anyone that had any experience in flensing whales. We had ex-whalers come down that were here residing in Darwin, actually showed museum personnel how to make up flensing knives and go about flensing something so large. He worked at Albany when it was a large whaling station. With their expertise and knowledge, the whale was flensed off.

It was there for around two and a half days. It was really off by the time most of the flesh was gone, the head hadn't been flensed and then the navy needed their lift back to launch a ship. So, it had to be removed at that time with a crane by some semi-trailer dump trucks and taken out to an old refuse site. It was then buried in mulch. To then let nature take care of what was left of the rotting meat and tissue.

Genevieve Johnson

LatestPhoto
The carcass was buried in mulch to let nature take care of what was left of the rotting flesh.
Photo: Ian Archibald

Next time Jarrod describes how the museum prepares and reconstucts the skeleton for future display.

Log by Genevieve Johnson

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