Ancient whale dies of 'very rare' cause: 'You almost take a step back'

·Environment Editor
·4-min read

WARNING GRAPHIC IMAGES: A five-day operation to determine the cause of death of a massive sperm whale found on a beach in the Philippines has delivered a "very rare" outcome.

Of the 75 whales D’Bone Collector museum owner Darrell Blatchley has necropsied, 60 were found to have had their lives cut short by plastic.

One victim was clogged with an astounding 40kg of garbage.

Mr Blatchley and his team worked on the whale's body for five nights. Source: D'Bone Collector Museum
Mr Blatchley and his team worked on the whale's body for five nights. Source: D'Bone Collector Museum

The 18-metre long, 40 tonne sperm whale Mr Blatchley spent five nights cutting open last week, in Jose Abad Santos, south of Davao City, was an exception.

It had died of old age.

“You almost take a step back and go: Wow, you beat the odds, lived a full life, reached a massive size and died peacefully on a beach in a remote part of the country,” he told Yahoo News Australia.

“A 70-year-old animal — that thing has survived the whaling era, it survived getting struck by ships, nuclear testing in the Pacific Ocean, and plastic.

“It was actually very humbling to see that one.”

Whale skeleton to educate public about plastic in oceans

Assisted by the government, Mr Blatchley, has trucked the whale’s skeleton to Davao City, where he plans to spend the next six months cleaning the animal.

It will then be displayed in his museum to help educate locals about the impact of plastic on the environment.

Mr Blatchley's team working on the massive dead whale.
Darrell Blatchley working to determine the whale's cause of death. Source: D'Bone Collector

“Most people think one little candy wrapper won't make a difference, but that’s until you've actually gone scuba diving, and you see the beauty of underneath the ocean,” he said.

“It is literally like the Garden of Eden. And we’re killing it.

“Many people don't realise that something that big, can die from a piece of plastic.

“So for us to recover these animals is important, so we can highlight the consequences of the actions of improper plastic disposal.”

What's it like to cut open a dead whale?

Mr Blatchley and his small team spent five days last week removing the blubber from the whale and piling up its bones.

The work is hot and smelly and requires a strong stomach, with flies laying eggs in tears and thin parts of the carcass’s skin.

“The first day the armpits had a lot of maggots and the eyes were starting to bulge,” he said.

“Once you start cutting it open, then the flies are laying eggs on everywhere else that is exposed meat.

“They're not laying their eggs on the fats or the blubber, or the skin, because there's so much oil that when you get the hot day it's actually cooking the maggots.”

Heavy machinery was needed to lift the whale's skull onto a truck. Source: D'Bone Collector Museum
Heavy machinery was needed to lift the whale's skull onto a truck. Source: D'Bone Collector Museum

By day four, Mr Blatchley and his team had cut away much of the blubber, and the whale was coloured white, with its body entirely coated in maggots.

“Then they started getting into the intestines and stomach, so it was becoming nastier and nastier the more we worked on it.”

What's the stench of a dead whale like?

Due to the heat, Mr Blatchley and his team would begin work around 3pm and work until midnight.

Working outdoors, he became increasingly accustomed to the stench of rotting flesh.

“The hard thing is you don't notice it until you get in a closed car, you turn on the aircon and go okay, who stepped in something. You then go: Never mind, it's me,” he said.

“Your skin sucks up the smell of the oil. That’s why expensive perfumes have an oil base, so it gets into your pores and stays on your skin longer.

“You have to take a bath and powdered chlorine, which is really harsh on your skin.”

Mr Blatchley said working on the whale’s stomach is the most dangerous job, so he takes that on himself.

“If you had shoes on the stomach acids will literally digest your shoes - the rubber soles of your shoes literally disintegrate like playdough,” he said.

“It just eats everything you have, your clothes start tattering away.

“I work in the stomach areas because the smell is worse, and I don't want to put the workers in jeopardy.

“I had really bad rashes on my legs two days after we were done, but they’ve now gone away.”

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