The meat of the dead whale which washed out on Palm Beach on Monday morning may be toxic, the Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal wildlife department has warned.
Anti-whaling activists had previously urged the International Whaling Commission (IWC) to persuade the World Health Organisation (WHO) to act over fears about eating whale meat.
The groups reportedly said whale meat is highly contaminated with mercury and should not be eaten.
The Hibiscus Municipality, which oversees Palm Beach where the decomposing mammal washed up, said the team would include municipal officials and KZN Ezemvelo Wildlife experts.
As the whale was pushed higher on to the rocks by high tides on Monday night, they would look at the options available.
“We can’t just bury the body on the beach in the sand, because the fat will seep into the water which, aside from the obvious hygiene issues, will attract sharks,” Tony Davis, the municipality’s area manager of cleaning and waste management, said on Tuesday.
He said vehicles were not allowed on to the beach, so authorities wanted to employ the use of excavators to move it.
Davis said that while there was no swimming at Palm Beach, they still needed to be careful about how they disposed of the huge carcass.
He said locals had already hacked away most of the blubber, leaving the thick skin, skeleton and insides, including organs and intestines.
Departmental spokesperson Musa Mntambo advised residents not to consume any of the meat from the dead whale.
“We do not know why it came out of the sea in the first place. It may be poisonous to people who will eat it. At times we do not know how long it has been dead and its meat may be rotten,” Mntambo said.
“It however becomes difficult to police a whale whilst it has been beached, until the local municipality removes it,” he added.
Local women were seen hacking pieces off the animal’s carcass to take home to feed their families.
The animal, a mature male, measured 11m and was 3m wide.
“The Health Department has been informed,” he said, adding that eating the meat, in its advanced stage of decomposition, could be harmful.
“We were told by those collecting the fat that they used it as part of their fertiliser for their crops.”
This practice is illegal because a permit is needed to possess and acquire whale meat.
Ezemvelo’s conservation manager, George Nair, told the Daily News on Tuesday that eating dead animals washed up on shore was “very risky”.
“You don’t know what the cause of death could be and, in this case, the animal was already dead when it washed on shore. It has already been on the beach for more than 24 hours in the heat of the sun, which will speed up the (decomposition) process,” he said.
Nair said stranding was fairly common at this time of year because they migrated annually along the coast from their feeding grounds in Antarctica. They came to the warmer waters to mate and give birth. During October and November, they would make the trip back to cooler waters.
Earlier this month, a young adult humpback whale, 12m-14m long, washed up on a beach in eManzimtoti.
It was believed to have been knocked unconscious by a vessel. Monday morning. A task team has been set up to look into the disposal of the carcass.