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Information: Dead whale at Kilcunda Cemetary Beach

Wednesday 27 September, 2017

A dead humpback whale has washed up at the Kilcunda Cemetery Beach, approximately 15km west of Wonthaggi. The whale is approximately 9 metres long and was reported to the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) and Parks Victoria (PV) on Sunday 24 September.

DELWP and PV are monitoring the situation, providing the community with information about the whale and ensuring community safety while it remains on the beach.

Whale remains are protected by law and must not be interfered with by members of the public. There is also the possibility of pathogens near the whale that could be harmful to humans, so please stay away from the carcass. Currently, access within 300 metres of the whale carcass has been fenced off.

The preferred method for disposal of a whale of this size is to bury it above the high tide line at the base of the dune. The whale will naturally decompose and pose little risk of attracting sharks to the area. Unfortunately, due to its location there is currently no access available for a large machine to access and bury the whale.

DELWP and PV staff will continue to monitor the whale location, which potentially may move due to tidal influences. If it does remain in place the whale will decompose naturally on the beach.

There is an advice message in place for people not to swim in the area due to heightened risk of sharks.

People are warned not to enter the water off the Kilcunda Cemetery Beach between from Kilcunda to the mouth of the Powlett River.  This risk may remain for some time as the whale decomposes.

Frequently Asked Questions

When did the whale die?

It is not known when the whale died, however, the condition of the carcass suggests the whale had died recently.

When was it reported to DEWLP?

The evening of Sunday 25 September.

How did the whale die?

The whale died at sea of unknown causes. There are no external signs of injuries that may have contributed to the death.

Why is there a shark warning in place?

As of the 26th September a shark advice warning is in place as sharks are attracted to whale carcasses.

What kind of whale is it?

A juvenile Humpback Whale (approximately 2 years old).

How common is it for whales to wash ashore like this?

This is a common occurrence for whales making their return migratory journey to Antarctic waters from warmer waters north of Australia, and we unfortunately do see them being washed ashore along the Gippsland Coast.

What is DELWP and PV doing to manage the whale on the beach?

DELWP and PV are working to consider options for managing the approximately 15 tonne whale carcass. Due to its large size the preferred option is to bury the whale on site, however we currently cannot gain access to the site with an excavator.

If the whale is buried is there still an increased shark risk?

Burial of the whale is an environmentally friendly option that allows the whale to naturally decompose.  In this situation whales are buried above the high tide mark and covered with approximately one metre of sand. The whale will be monitored to ensure it stays covered with sand, and there is little risk of sharks being attracted to the area.  Please note this is currently not possible at the Kilcunda Cemetery Beach as there is no access for an excavator.

Can the whale remain on the beach?

The simplest and most environmentally friendly method is to the leave the whales remains on site and allow them to break down naturally. It is unknown how long the whale will take to decompose but being located on the surf line this will hasten this process. However, if the whale remains in place, there will continue to be an increased risk of sharks until the whale decomposes.

Will the whale remain in place on the beach?

There is a chance the whale will move along the beach by ocean swells. If the whale moves to an area accessible by machine, the whale will be buried.

Why can’t the whale be removed from the beach?

Due to the size of the whale and the limited access to its location it is not feasible to remove the whale from the beach.

Why can’t the whale be taken out to sea?

Whales can be moved by boat from inaccessible beaches to a more accessible beach to be buried. They will not be left floating out to sea as they will become a safety risk for boats and may return to land elsewhere. Moving a whale by boat is difficult and is currently not a preferred option for the whale at Kilcunda.

Are there warnings in place for boaters/swimmers in waters near the whale?

A 300-metre exclusion zone has been set up around the whale carcass at Kilcunda Cemetery Beach. We are advising the public to not swim in the area until authorities have deemed it is safe to do so. Signs will be installed at the site to warn walkers and swimmers of the risk.

Media enquiries
Melanie McVey-Di Lazzaro

Parks Victoria media centre