Beached whale carcass at Dehiwala


A dead whale was washed ashore on Dehiwala Beach on Friday evening, causing considerable excitement among residents in the area. Fishermen had earlier spotted a whale carcass floating out at sea. The 45-foot long mammal was in a badly decomposed condition, and had to be buried the next day. Experts say the dead whale could have been floating in the sea for more than a month. 

Much of the whale’s black skin had peeled off, and the skeleton was showing in places. The tail and fins were intact, but the head had rotted beyond identification. Pubudu Weeraratne, president and senior instructor for the Young Zoologists’ Association, believed the mammal could have been a species of baleen whale, judging by the shape of the jaws and the absence of teeth. Baleen whales have no teeth; they filter their food through what are known as baleen plates. The seas around Sri Lanka carry five species of baleen whale – the blue whale, the humpback whale, the minke whale, the Bryde’s whale and the fin whale. Mr. Weeraratne said it could have been a medium-sized blue whale or a Bryde’s whale.

Despite the foul smell, residents in the area rushed to see the dead giant before it was buried by the Dehiwala-Mt. Lavinia Municipal Council yesterday morning. This is the fifth dead whale to appear on the Colombo coastline in the past decade, according to Municipal Council Deputy Commissioner Sarath Fernando. The first carcass was washed up near the Mount Lavinia Hotel, the second in front of Wasala Road, the third near Oben Place, and the fourth near the Dehiwala railway station. In June last year, a Sperm Whale was washed ashore close to the Wellawatte Kinross Club.

Mt. Lavinia resident Nishantha told the Sunday Times that he went to see the Mt. Lavinia Hotel whale a decade ago. That was a real giant, he recalled, twice as big as Friday’s whale. It took three days to dig a hole big enough to bury the giant, he said, adding that the municipality now has heavy machinery that can do the job in hours.

Arjan Rajasuriya, an officer attached to the National Aquatic Resources Research and Development Agency (NARA), observed that most of the whale carcasses were washed ashore during the southwest monsoon season, between May and September. At this time of year, ocean currents move in the direction of the land. This year the sea currents may have started moving early, bringing with them the giant carcass that might have been floating far out at sea. Whales usually die from natural causes, but some are casualties of collisions with large ocean-going vessels. Ribs in the Dehiwela whale carcass were broken, but Arjan said this could have happened in a mid-sea collision after the whale had died.

Three weeks ago, members of the Colombo Divers association spotted a whale carcass 8 to 10 kilometres at sea. Colombo Divers co-founder Nishan Perera said carcass was heavily decomposed, suggesting it might have been the same mammal that that washed ashore on Friday. Leading marine mammal expert Anouk Illangakoon says dead whales turning up the beach is not an unusual phenomenon, considering that 27 varieties of marine mammals swim in the seas around Sri Lanka.

Published on SundayTimes on 18.04.2010

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