South Africa


About this page...

  • Date: 14-Sep-2005

  • Location: Mnandi Beach, Cape Town, South Africa

  • Species: Southern Right whale

  • Category: Euthanization

This is another sad instance of a beached whale that was euthanized with explosives. The Southern Right whale beached itself on the South African coast around September 13, 2005. Would-be rescuers worked through the night, but attempts to refloat the whale — over 30 feet long and weighing in excess of 11 tons — failed. The animal lay suffering, partially entombed in the beach sand and baking in the sun. As in other cases, it was decided that the most humane way to put the animal out of its misery was with explosives.

These are clearly the saddest type of exploding whale. It is always a tragic end for a graceful creature.

Rescue effort fails to free beached whale

September 14 2005 at 07:04AM

By Melanie Gosling

About 100 people gathered at Mnandi Beach on Tuesday night, where a seven-metre Southern Right whale lay stranded in shallow water.

Crew from the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI), police divers, Table Mountain National Park (TMNP) staff and about 20 members of the public battled for about two hours to shift the big mammal off the sand.

NSRI crew from Station 16 at Strandfontein co-ordinated the valiant rescue attempt.

Robin Adams from TMNP said he believed they could get the whale off if they could get enough people to help.

With spotlights shining down from dunes where cars were parked, NSRI crew got a rope around the whale’s tale. They put a bright red wetsuit underneath the rope to prevent it from chafing the whale.

Some of the people moved towards the whale’s head and as each wave broke, they pushed it towards the open sea, while others pulled the tail towards the shore.

Police on the shore had to shout at some of the younger volunteers to come out of the water as the waves were breaking over them.

After about an hour they managed to turn the whale’s head towards the sea. It waved its tail, blew and it looked as if it was going to make it, but the rescuers could not shift it far enough.

As they came out of the water Adams said: “I can’t bear to leave it. I think we must try again.”

Vaughn Seconds of the NSRI replied: “But even if we turn her head right around, what then? She still can’t move off the sand, even with the high tide.”

David Lehr, one of the police divers, added: “I think we’ve got to be realistic. We’ve got four or five tons of whale here and even with the high tide we have not been able to move her. In the dark with all these people, it’s starting to get dangerous.”

Pottie Potgieter, of the police dive unit, called the rescue attempt off at 8.45pm.

Adams said: “I know she tried to help us. When we pushed her I could feel her trying to get out.”

Adams said they would assess the situation at dawn.

© 2005 Cape Times / Independent Online

Beached whale cannot be saved

(Click to enlarge)Doomed: Would-be rescuers and volunteers attend to the beached whale at Mnandi Beach, Cape Town. Photo: Ian Landsberg, Cape Argus
September 14 2005 at 11:17AM

By Natasha Prince and Johan Schronen

Police armed with explosives were on Wednesday preparing to blow up the Southern Right whale stranded on Mnandi Beach.

The 10-metre-long whale was still alive early on Wednesday, but Marine and Coastal Management officials made the decision to euthanase the animal, which they said could not be saved.

Nan Rice of the Dolphin Action Group said using explosives was a humane way to put a whale down.

“I’m relieved. The whale was either sickly or injured and had to be put down. Bullets or even harpoons are a slow way of killing such a whale with all its blubber, and would have just prolonged its agony,” Rice said.

On Tuesday the beached whale attracted the attention of curious onlookers who watched rescuers and volunteers help keep the whale wet. Marine and Coastal Management, environmentalists, members of the National Sea Rescue Institute and the police dive unit were at the scene to try to save the whale.

Onlookers said they had seen “something strange” moving towards the shore between 2.30pm and 3pm on Tuesday.

“We were swimming, and someone said that something was in the water and then we saw the tail lift out the water,” said Melissa January of Tafelsig. “The smaller children ran out the water because they were scared, but other children went up to touch it.

Three police divers were sent out at about 5pm. Rescuers attached ropes to the whale’s tail in an attempt to position its head facing the sea and pull it further out. But all efforts failed on Tuesday night.

© 2005 Cape Argus / Independent Online

Beached whale killed with explosives

(Click to enlarge)A policeman attaches explosives to the head of a southern right whale that was stranded on Mnandi Beach near Cape Town. Photo: Reuters
(Click to enlarge)A stranded 10-metre whale lies dead on the beach at Mnandi Beach, Cape Town, after police blew it up with explosives. Photo: AP/Obed Zilwa
(Click to enlarge)The whale, blown up after it was unable to be rescued. Photo: AP/Obed Zilwa
(Click to enlarge)The whale, blown up after it was unable to be rescued. Photo: AP/Obed Zilwa
September 15, 2005 – 11:22AM

Marine biologists used explosives to kill an 11-tonne southern right whale beached helplessly on South Africa’s coast, after several attempts to move it failed.

Mike Meyer of Marine and Coastal Management told the SAPA news agency that the two-year-old whale had become stranded in shallow water at Mnandi Beach on Cape Town’s False Bay coast after an apparent “navigational error”.

“In this case the animal made a mistake … it wasn’t a sick animal, it went too close to shore and got caught out,” he was quoted as saying.

Marine and Coastal Management officials made the decision to euthanase the animal, which they said could not be saved.

Carol Esmosas, spokesman for the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, said the use of explosives was recommended for such cases by the International Whaling Commission.

She said the other options – the use of a huge rifle or injections of drugs – were considered riskier and more painful for the animal.

It is whale breeding season along the Cape coast at the moment.

© 2005 Sydney Morning Herald

Dead whale draws curious onlookers to Mnandi

September 15 2005 at 10:04AM

By Melanie Gosling

People flocked to see the carcass of the Southern Right whale at Mnandi Beach where children jumped on it, kicked it and one person hacked off bits of flesh from it on Wednesday.

People posed in front of it for photographs and two men climbed onto the dead animal to film the hole in its head left by the explosives used to kill it.

Pat Stacey, of Marine and Coastal Management (MCM), said: “It’s unbelievable. People are all over it. There was even one person who cut pieces of flesh out of it. We’re trying to keep them away.”

About 30 children were rolling over the whale and “skiing” down its back.

The Southern Right whale, which beached on Tuesday afternoon, was put down on Wednesday after attempts to refloat it failed.

Mike Meyer from MCM, in consultation with whale specialist Peter Best, local authorities and Nan Rice of the Dolphin Action and Protection Group, decided that the most humane option would be to use explosives.

Police from the explosives unit used a cone-pack explosive device, designed to force the charge in one direction only. It was detonated over the whale’s brain, causing immediate death.

Claire McKinnon, head of the city’s cleansing department, said all animal carcasses had to be disposed of at the Vissershok hazardous waste site.

She said the council would use three front-end loaders on Thursday to roll the carcass along the beach to a spot where a flatbed truck was waiting. The 11-ton animal would be hoisted onto it by crane and taken to the dump.

She said the beach would not be closed to the public as the carcass did not pose a health risk at this stage.

Before the whale was killed, Meyer explained to the hundreds of curious onlookers over a public address system why the animal had to be put down and how they would do it. He explained it was impossible to refloat the whale.

Best said the whale was probably between two and five years old. He took skin samples to identify its sex. It was not possible to explain why the whale had beached itself.

Rice said she was “fed up” with the public interfering with whale strandings.

“They obstruct everyone’s work. I’m also fed up with all the calls I get to complain about killing the whale,” Rice said.

“There is no way anyone could have got the whale back into the sea.

“Using explosives is an internationally recognised humane way of killing stranded animals. You can’t leave the thing baking in the sun for days, dying slowly.”

© 2005 Cape Times / Independent Online

The waves around the whale turned crimson

Blood from a Southern Right whale euthanized with explosives colors the surf and stains the sand.
September 15, 2005

‘I had come to accept that this way was the best’

Reporting by Sue Kwon

It was a shock seeing the whale killed.

I had expected the sound of the explosives to be loud, but I hadn’t expected to feel the force of the blast.

When the smoke cleared, there was a crater in its head, and the whale I had watched for hours, had heard breathing and had watched flapping its fluke, lay still.

As its lifeblood ran out, the waves around it turned crimson.

“Ag no shame man!” said one of the many bystanders at Mnandi beach near Strandfontein. “Why didn’t they tow it out to sea?” said another.

I knew how they felt. Eighteen hours earlier, I would probably have made the same comments.

No one knows exactly why the Southern Right whale beached itself at Mnandi Beach on Tuesday afternoon. Reports came in that people were jumping on its back and the authorities went out to investigate. It was lying in shallow water, stuck on the sand.

Some said it may have been ill, others that it had come too close inshore and got stuck, yet others that it might have had something wrong with its navigation system.

They tried everything to get it back into deep water.

On Tuesday night, I watched teams from the National Sea Rescue Institute, the police, Table Mountain National Park, Marine and Coastal Management and members of the public, try to get the whale turned around and push it out to sea.

As I watched them struggling in the surf, I was willing them to succeed.

With bright spotlights cutting through the night, shining on the surf and the glossy blackness of the whale, I thought of the animal making its long journey from the Antarctic to our coast every year.

It had probably been born here some years before, possibly even in False Bay. I thought of its long return voyage at the start of summer, all those thousands of miles back to the Southern Ocean. Of its parents mating, the long gestation period before it was born, it suckling from its mother in the shallows.

Now it lay dead on a False Bay beach, a hole blown in its head by explosives.

During those 18 hours from when I first watched the people try to rescue the whale, I had come to accept that killing it this way was probably the best. Not for us humans, perhaps, concerned with how bad it made us feel, but for the whale, certainly.

It was clear from watching scores of people battle for hours that they were never going to refloat the 10m animal, weighing over 11 tons.

If a boat powerful enough to pull the deadweight had managed to tow it out to sea, the whale scientists on the scene said the force on its tail would undoubtedly have dislocated its spine. It would have died slowly and painfully.

That left a choice: letting the animal die naturally, or killing it. It was already suffering, its breathing erratic. It could have taken days to die, slowly baking in the sun. Its ribs, not designed to bear its own body weight on land, offered little protection for its internal organs, and it would have suffered slow organ failure.

And the people. As many as there were who felt sorry for the creature, so too were there those that had jumped on it, prodded it, and dozens who had posed grinning in front of the distressed animal while they had their snaps taken.

Killing it had to be the humane choice. Shooting it was not an option.

Even with a powerful weapon, experience in other countries had shown it was extremely difficult to get a clean brain shot, and there have been instances where whales had been shot over and over again before they finally died.

Drugs? The amount needed would be enormous, and it would be ineffective injected into the blubber.

They would have to get it into a blood vessel, which would probably entail cutting the animal to find one.

Blowing it up sounds ghastly, but death was instant.

The police bomb unit used a cone-pack explosive, designed to direct the force of the blast in one direction. They placed the explosive behind the whale’s blowhole, put a sandbag on top , and detonated it. It was over in seconds.

Eben Lourens, the police officer who set the explosive, was the same man who had cut free an entangled Humpback whale in Gordon’s Bay some weeks ago.

“You win some, you lose some,” he said.

© 2005 Cape Times

Additional images

© 2005 dpa

Still frames from video

Due to its graphic nature, the video of this exploding whale will not be posted on this site. Instead, we’ve posted four key frames of the video, reduced in size, in order to document explosion.

Police officers position an explosive charge on the whale.
The cone-pack explosive is strapped in place behind the whale’s blowhole and covered with a sandbag.
Immediately following detonation, smoke rises from the blast area.
The targeted explosion left an immense crater in the whale’s head, and the death was said to have been almost instantaneous.