Hints as to what killed the estimated eight meters, over a ton sperm whale goes under a pile of dirt, as municipal officials and government volunteers bury today the carcass that has since started to rot in Baluarte, Baclayon.
Provincial Fisheries officer Leo Bongalos of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources sadly said his office has no expert to perform a necropsy to determine what caused the death of the whale which Baclayon boatmen found floating around 2 kilometers off the port, Tuesday around 4:00 PM.
First sighted and reported on the social media by auxiliary Coast Guard Joselino Baritua Tuesday at 4 PM, the carcass which had drifted towards barangay Taguihon has to be towed to Baluarte, Baclayon Officer in Charge of the Municipal Agriculture Office (MAO) Dino Ramo said.
The whale, later identified as a sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus) for its unmistakable square shaped head and narrow lower jaw lined with teeth, arrived in Baluarte in an advanced state of decomposition about 8 PM, Ramo added.
With a total body length from head to fluke at about 8 meters and a 3.5-meter girth, BFAR estimates the whale, which has already bloated out of proportion, to be a ton and a half in weight, observers said.
While uk.whales.org said adult sperm whales can go 18.3 meters and females at 12 meters, the Baluarte carcass could be a juvenile.
As a juvenile, it may be important to determine if it were a male or a female, but marine biologist of Balyena.org.ph Maita Verdote said they could not perform sex identification through genital examination due to its being in advanced state of rot.
It is reportedly unusual for juvenile female sperm whales to leave the pod of 10 to 20 adult whales, while young males may have the tendency to follow its migration route alone.
If found to be female, it also means a whole sperm whale pod is nearby or may have passed by Bohol sea recently, while something must have killed a male juvenile, considering that a sperm whale could live until 70 years.
Verdote, who is based in Jagna, and who has been responding to stranding distress calls added that they would have wanted to check the whale’s gastro-intestinal tract to see where the [death] issue could have come from.
Thriving on a diet of fish and giant squid, sperm whales have to seek for these giant squid in the pitch-black depths reaching two to three kilometers deep, making them the deepest diving mammals, holding their breath for an average of an hour, according to experts.
Getting into the gastro intestinal tract of the dead whale would confirm what has been among the bounced speculations shared on social media: that the death could have been caused by the whale ingesting plastic and garbage.
Pollution has been listed among the main threats of the extinction vulnerable whales, according to the International Union on the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
But, Bongalos admitted they have no equipment that would be used to perform the autopsy, much less dispose of the gigantic carcass.
And without the veterinary experts in place or the equipment necessary for the operations available, plus the state of the whale’s decomposition preventing any more scientific examination, Verdote said all they could do was to collect some tissue samples from the rotting corpse for submission to laboratories.
As the elements of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), BFAR, MAO and environment advocates took turns in securing the dead animal while calls for necropsy echoed across social media sites, time proved to be an even nastier enemy.
As the whale continued to degenerate, it emitted a stench threatening health of nearby communities and rendering the seawaters off Baluarte oily.
At this, Baclayon Mayor Benecio Uy, in consultation with BFAR, Balyena and environment workers, has initiated the dead animal’s disposal.
A backhoe has dug Wednesday afternoon a hole to permanently secure the carcass while onlookers still stream to see the gentle giant laying on the low berm of the Baluarte embankment as of 10 PM.
The town people disposed of the whale Thursday morning as the tide was rising, the pile of dirt effectively burying the questions and the answers on what could have caused the animal’s death. (rahc/PIA-7/Bohol)