The sperm whale skeleton could be ready for display by the end of the year. Courtesy of Shamsun Nahar Sherin
August 27th, 2014 (Martin Croucher). FUJAIRAH – It is now two years since a sperm whale washed up on a Fujairah beach, and one of the most unpleasant waiting games continues.
The unusual sight of a 13-metre whale washed up in an area where it would not normally be seen was a public spectacle for almost a week in May 2012.
The plan was to give its carcass time to decompose, a process that should only take about a year, and then it could go on public display in Fujairah. However, two years down the line, it is still not ready.
The carcass was buried in a dry patch of land in Fujairah to aid its decomposition. When only its bones remained, they would have been dug out and put on display.
But last month officials from Fujairah Municipality took spades to the area of land where the whale was buried and found that a good portion of its body had still not decomposed.
“We dug it up a little about a month ago, but it still needs some time,” said Mohammed Al Afkham, the Director General of Fujairah Municipality. “We are keeping it under observation.”
The Environment Society of Oman has categorised three species of baleen whale and a species of sperm whale that are common in Omani waters.
But it is rare for a sperm whale to swim in to the Arabian Gulf.
Burying whales for a time is a common way of stripping their skeleton, and normally takes only a year if it is laid in dry earth, close to the sea. However, there is a risk that the entire carcass can rot, in which case the bones will not be usable.
Another way is to do it by hand, but Fujairah officials at the time discovered the whale had already been dead for 20 days at sea, and to do it manually would have posed a health risk.
It is not clear how the animal died, although marine experts at the time speculated it might have been upon contact with an oil spill.
Mr Al Afkham said he was hoping to put the skeleton on display at a marine exhibit in the emirate.
“It’s something that people should look at,” he said. “It’s a sperm whale, which is quite rare in this part of the world.”
The sperm whale can grow to 20 metres in length and can dive as deep as three kilometres. It lives primarily on squid but also on fish.
The clicking noise it produces is the loudest sound made by any mammal, and it can live as long as 70 years.
Mr Al Afkham said he expected the decomposition to finish soon.
“It will probably be ready by the end of the year, but we don’t want to take it out too early and break the bones,” he said. “We want to give it a bit of time to make sure all the meat drains out.”
The body of the animal has been buried in an empty, unmarked area near the coast.
“We have dug a very nice grave for it,” said Mr Al Afkham, who added that the public will not be told of its exact location.
“We don’t want to put a signpost for everyone to come. We don’t want someone to do something wrong there,” he said.
The director general said there was no chance of its location being lost: “We know exactly where it is. We’re taking good care of it, don’t worry.”
Ed Sibylline : just sordid !