Beached whale put down
A 10.2-METRE juvenile humpback whale has met a sad end after being euthanised yesterday afternoon on Sandon Beach north of Minnie Water.
The estimated 15-tonne male humpback whale - believed to have been returning south at the time - stranded itself on the beach just north of the Illaroo camping grounds on Wednesday afternoon.
It was hoped the whale would be able to free itself with the overnight high tide but National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) rangers arrived yesterday morning to find the animal still stranded and quickly deteriorating.
Staff from the Coffs Harbour Pet Porpoise Pool, including marine vet Dr Duan March, joined NPWS rangers and a small crowd of locals at the site in a solemn vigil over the animal throughout yesterday.
But with a rescue effort impossible due to the animal's weight and condition, all the team could do was look on in sadness and frustration while keeping the whale hydrated and as comfortable as possible.
By about 1pm yesterday the decision was made to euthanise the animal at low tide unless it showed signs of improvement which was thought unlikely.
About 4.30pm the whale was euthanised using a combination of drugs. The carcass was then pulled a few kilometres up the beach and buried using an excavator.
NPWS Ranger Lawrence Orel - who oversaw much of yesterday's vigil - said the operation went smoothly and the animal's death was quick and humane.
Mr Orel said why the animal beached itself in the first place was a mystery.
"There were no obvious signs of injury, we couldn't see any boat strikes or signs of entanglement - things that might be a cause for an animal like this to strand," Mr Orel said.
"But clearly there's some serious underlying condition which brought this animal to shore."
Dr March said the whale showed some signs of chronic disease which may have led to it beaching, but said tests would need to be done to confirm this.
Whatever the reason, members of the team on site were emotional about the death of one of nature's gentle giants.
Dr March - who often deals with similar situations as part of his job - said it never got any easier and said it was a real shame to see such an impressive, gentle animal meet an end like this.
Mr Orel said tissue samples were taken from the whale after it was euthanised which may shed light on why the animal became beached in the first place.