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The rotting sei whale will be picked up by the SA Museum as the great “stench” heats up

By on September 14, 2021 0


The smelly carcass of a rare whale, which has been mutilated by sharks and left to rot on a beach in northern Adelaide, will be cut up and removed by SA Museum staff and local council.

DISCLAIMER: This story contains graphical content that readers may find distressing.

Se whales, which typically spend most of their time at sea, died after being caught in the bow of a freighter before being pushed into the outer harbor last month.

Onlookers marveled at the great white sharks that mutilated the carcass near shore, but the feeding frenzy also made it difficult for the National Parks and Wildlife Service to tie a rope around the whale so it could be towed to the sea.

It has since floated with the tides in various places, including Section Bank (known as Bird Island), before beaching on the mudflats of St Kilda from which residents complained of a more odor and stronger.

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Great white sharks gnaw the humpback whale carcass in the outer harbor.(SA Museum)

“It has now happened on the beach and we see it as part of our responsibility to do something for the good of our residents.

“Sure, I think the stench is really nasty.”

Hot week ahead

High temperatures in Adelaide are expected to reach 26 degrees Celsius on Thursday and 27 degrees Celsius on Friday, which is expected to lead to an increase in odors.


Mayor Aldridge said council had previously tried with the SA Museum to tow the whale, but it didn’t work because the whale had deteriorated too much.

She said museum staff would now cut up the whale to extract the bones in a cleanup that would take three to four days.

A first for South Africa

The SA Museum’s principal mammalian researcher, Dr Catherine Kemper, said her staff were delighted to take care of the “very special” species in a first for SA.

“They’ll hopefully get the whole skeleton back, which is fantastic for us because it might just be the second [sei whale] specimen in an Australian museum, ”she said.

“They are probably not very common in Australian waters.”

The carcass of a humpback whale in the water
The whale carcass was first spotted in the water at Outer Harbor, Adelaide’s main port. (

ABC News: Brant Cumming


She said her bones would be sent to the museum’s Bolivar warehouse to be macerated in “hot water for probably up to a year.”

“Most of our specimens go into the scientific collection behind the scenes,” Dr. Kemper said.

“But our collections are used by researchers and others around the world … [who] either come here or we provide them with photos or information. “

A whale in an advanced state of decomposition on a bed of algae
The sei whale carcass rests on St Kilda Beach, north of Adelaide, from where it will be removed.(

ABC Radio Adelaide: Spence Denny


A difficult task

The director of the SA Museum’s mammal collection, David Stemmer, said it would not be easy to recover the whale’s skeleton, due to its advanced state of composition.

“The principle of going into it will be the same,” he told ABC Radio Adelaide’s Spence Denny.

“We have to remove the fat first, then the soft tissue underneath, the muscles, the organs, and once we get to the bones, we will cut them out one by one to finally remove the whole skeleton.

“The skeleton, which will not be very pretty once taken out of the rotting carcass, will come to our Bolivar preparation workshop where it will be macerated in our large outdoor tank.”

He said the smell was “strong enough” but that most of his assistants had been around rotting carcasses before, although “not of this size”.

“It’s just a matter of breathing, and you get used to it and eventually you don’t notice it,” Mr. Stemmer said.

A volunteer in a blue jumpsuit with pink gloves pulls flesh from a piece of humpback whale vertebrate
The flesh will be taken from the bones of the whale before they enter the maceration tanks.(

ABC News: Casey Briggs


Too decomposed for postmortem

Dr Kemper said researchers would try to determine the sex and age of the whale, but an autopsy was unlikely to be performed due to the advanced state of decomposition.

She said it was common for whales around the world to be killed by freighters.

“The whale may be sleeping or a little drowsy on the surface, and a huge container ship comes in at a reasonable rate of knots and the whales cling to the bow and die,” Dr Kemper said. .

She said that while the SA museum removes the bones, the council has arranged to remove the rest of the carcass, which will be composted.


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