Holidaymakers at a North Side beach getaway could have faced a Very Smelly Christmas this year if not for the efforts of some Northsiders and staff of the Cayman Islands Department of Environment.
A dead, 12-feet whale washed up outside the Northern Lights condos at Old Man Bay in Grand Cayman on Tuesday night and DoE staff were faced with the dilemma of getting the decomposing creature off the beach and back into the water in rough seas.
“A lot of people had come in and were staying at the resort for Christmas,” said Carl Edwards, conservation officer with the Department of Environment. “It wouldn’t have been a very nice holiday for them with a rotting, stinking whale outside their door.”
Mr. Edwards, with the help of Bo Miller, an owner of Northern Lights, and some neighbours, tied a rope around the whale’s tail and pushed it into the water at high tide around 6.30pm Wednesday evening, tying it to the beach’s dock in deeper water.
The following morning, Marco Whittaker and Chad Whittaker, on a wave runner, then took the rope and pulled the whale, which was by then bloated to almost twice its size, to a mooring outside the reef, where an Ocean Frontiers dive boat was expected to pull it further out to sea Thursday morning.
“It’s still intact,” Mr. Edwards said mid-morning Thursday. “It’s about twice the size it was yesterday with all the gases expanding. It’s floating like a big balloon on the water.”
“We needed to get it away from the beach before it opened up. The smell would have emptied the whole area for miles around. Believe me, it would have been pretty nasty,” he said.
Mr. Miller said he was relieved the whale was gone from the beach and his guests would not have to live with a decaying whale over Christmas, as well as the sharks the creature attracted.
“After we tied it to the pier, within five minutes, a shark was right beside it, but the whale was still in too shallow water, about 2 feet, so it couldn’t get to it,” Mr. Miller said.
Guests at Northern Lights and neighbouring condos filled the beach Wednesday morning to see the bloated whale.
“It was definitely something different for them to see. I guess it makes a change from visiting Sting Ray City or snorkelling,” Mr. Edwards said. “It’s like something out of National Geographic.”
With rough waters making it questionable whether the whale could be pulled back into the sea by boat Wednesday, Mr. Edwards said some guests offered up alternatives for dealing with the body of the whale. “One suggested we cut it up with a chainsaw! I’d have given him the chainsaw and gotten as far away as possible,” he said.
The whale, originally thought to be a pygmy sperm whale, is a dwarf sperm whale, Mr. Edwards said. The two species look similar.
Tissue samples, along with the jaw bone of the whale, will be examined by scientists to determine how old the whale is and the cause of death. The teeth of a whale, like a tree trunk, have rings can be counted to establish the age of the mammal.
The whale had no obvious injuries on its body. Mr. Edwards said it was possible the whale may have died of starvation as its diet usually consists of shrimp found in cold water, which are not found in the warmer Caribbean waters.
“It’s a big whale, about 12 feet, which means it could be an older mammal, as that’s on the large size for this type of whale. It may have gotten separated from its pod and may have just starved,” he said.
The whale was dead less than a day when it was found early Wednesday, Mr. Edwards said.