As the number of stranded whales along the British coastline continues to rise, dealing with the removal of these massive carcasses is becoming a significant logistical challenge. Since the establishment of the Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme (CSIP) in 1990, there have been an astonishing 17,850 cetacean strandings recorded in the UK, with particularly high numbers reported this year.
The removal of whale carcasses, which can weigh anywhere from 1 to 40 tonnes, poses practical, financial, and safety challenges for local councils and organizations. Prompt disposal is crucial as whales rapidly decompose on shore, posing a potential public health risk due to bacterial hazards.
One concerning issue is the possibility of a decomposing carcass becoming explosive. As gases, such as methane, build up inside the whale’s body, it may rupture and cause a sudden release of unpleasant odor and decomposing flesh. In some cases, attempts have been made to dispose of carcasses using explosives, often with unintended consequences such as spreading foul smells and damaging property.
Landfill is considered the most optimal method for carcass disposal, with around a third of all beached whales in the US being disposed of this way. Other methods used in the UK include rendering, which involves breaking down the carcass and converting it into biodiesel, and incineration, although the latter can be problematic for larger whales.
Dealing with stranded whales on private land poses unique financial challenges for landowners. The removal of a carcass can become extremely complicated and expensive, with costs sometimes reaching tens of thousands of pounds. Organizations like CSIP continue to investigate and manage these incidents, as experts like Rob Deaville, CSIP project manager, try to find the most effective method to handle the ongoing increase in cetacean strandings.