By Guy Rogers
Streams of people are taking to the Sacramento Trail to see the remains of the giant humpback whale on the rocks between Schoenmakerskop and Sardinia Bay.
The pilgrimage began on Sunday, and even yesterday a handful of Nelson Mandela Bay residents were at the site examining the carcass and speculating on what had happened.
The animal’s upper and lower jaws appear to have been broken.
Bayworld-based Marine Mammal Stranding Network coordinator marine biologist Dr Greg Hofmeyr said he would still be conducting a proper examination.
Indications were that the animal was an adult male and could be as long as 17m, a good 3m longer than the average.
“It seems it was brought in on a high tide and that it stranded on the rocks on Saturday as the tide retreated,” Hofmeyr said.
“Judging from the state of decay, it was probably floating dead for a while before it was brought in.
“There are also signs of sharks having fed on the carcass, which would confirm this.”
Hofmeyr said it was impossible to say at this stage what had killed the whale.
“There don’t seem to be any of the straight parallel cuts which would indicate a collision with a ship’s propeller,” he said,
In his view, the carcass did not pose any kind of a health hazard.
“It’s away from any houses and it will decay fairly quickly, so I would leave it where it is.”
NMU whale specialist Dr Stefanie Plön said while she might be able to get some more clues to the whale’s death by doing a post-mortem, the decay could cloud results.
The animal had probably not yet begun its migration south to the Antarctic as this usually only began in November, she said.
The species spends the southern hemisphere spring and summer in the cold southern waters feeding on huge volumes of krill.
Then they migrate north in autumn and stay through winter, using the time to calve in warmer waters off Southern Africa, Australia and South America.
It is an annual round trip of about 5 000km, one of the longest migrations of any mammal.
Plön said there was some debate in whale research circles about the Southern African aspect of this migration.
Metro coastal conservation manager Godfrey Murrell said yesterday there were no plans to try to shift the carcass.
“We know from past experience trying to get a dead whale off the rocks is extremely difficult as it sits really vas,” he said.
“It would require a big vessel, which we don’t have, and a substantial cost outlay we would rather not incur.
“But it’s also a natural thing and it’s lying within the Sardinia Bay Nature Reserve and marine protected zone, so we’ll just be leaving it where it is.”