Monday, September 14, 2009

Death of a Whale.

Yesterday a juvenile humpback whale beached itself at City Beach, a popular Perth beach. It was a seven metre long male believed to be about eighteen months old. The wildlife officers who were monitoring said it appeared it had been attacked by a killer whale. Because of its bulk and where it was wallowing in the shallows it was not possible to tow it out to sea and it couldn't be approached close enough to be euthanised. It died early today.

I didn't go to see it but I did see it on television. To me it was as heartbreaking as watching a half grown kitten or puppy suffering. It was so obviously young, frightened and in pain. I wished very much that we could have helped it but the truth was even if it had been towed out to see it probably wouldn't have survived given its injuries.

It was a sunny Spring day in Perth yesterday, enticing many people to the beaches and a small crowd had been drawn to the whale. They stood respectfully for the most part, awed and sorrowful. No-one could help but everyone was touched by it.

Coincidentally last night's Australian Story on Channel Two was about two scientists who some years ago discovered a major humpback breeding ground in Camden Sound on the Kimberley coast. They kept quiet about it except among their peers so the whales would remain undisturbed and have been studying the whales there ever since. The young humpback may well have been one of those born in the sound. He was returning to feed in the Antarctic for the summer as part of the whales' annual migration when he came to grief.

And the reason this breeding ground is now in the news? The State Government has decided that James Price Point, approximately 50 kms south of Camden Sound, is its preferred site to place a large scale industrial development for processing natural gas from the Browse Basin into LNG for export. Not surprisingly there is considerable opposition for environmental reasons and the whales' safety is only part of it. The government says it's the best site and the whales will be fine. They swim past industrial sites all the time apparently with no problems. Hmmmm. And the scientific basis for that is available where?

There is still to be an environmental assessment done but I wonder, given the little we know about whales, how even with the best will, such an assessment will be made. A hundred years ago we thought asbestos was safe to use and an environmental assessment would have accepted that - not from malice or ineptitude, but from ignorance.

The Wilderness Society has some interesting things to say about this plan.

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