Monday, 2 May 2011
The Pegwell Bay Whale - a summary of events
Following my research into Sperm Whale strandings around the world and how they are dealt with, I came across this manual on how to rebuild a Sperm Whale, which I must admit was a bit of a surprise. This manual was used in conjunction with a school project by the Homer High School in Alaska and the Pratt Museum to rebuild a skeleton of a Sperm Whale. The Whale like the one stranded in Pegwell Bay was dead on the foreshore. Instead of cutting it up with chain saws and pulling it apart with JCB's and then putting in skips to be dumped in landfill like what happened in Thanet. They stripped their one of much flesh as possible and then buried it, only to later dig it up and clean the bones. Then rebuild the skeleton as part of a school project with a local museum. However, I must admit preserving the Whale remains as a school project is probably more to do with Alaskan culture .
On similar web sites in New Zealand they also buried a dead Sperm Whale from a stranding. After the air cleared a bit and nature has done its job, they in New Zealand dug it up and cleaned the bones. The bones either went into exhibition or to make Maori jewellery and scrimshaws etc.
In Thanet things were done differently, firstly the Sperm Whale once it touched shore became a royal fish property of the crown. This involved the Receiver of Wrecks , DEFRA and the Institute of Zoology which is common practice throughout the UK. However, Channel four expressed an interest as they wanted to make a documentary investigating the stranding including the autopsy. A deal was struck on the condition that Channel Four was responsible for the cost of the disposal of the Whale. As soon as the filming was complete and the institute of Zoology had completed their preliminary findings the Whale was taken to the Pegwell Bay disused Hover port slipway for disposal. There it became the responsibility of Thanet District Council to organise the disposal of the Whale with Channel Four picking up the bill. Before the Whale was cut up the Institute of Zoology had the jaw bone and selected other body parts to be removed , these items were then transported away in a refrigerated vehicle for further research.
The carcase of the whale was then cut up with chain saws and then pulled apart with JCB's and then loaded into skips and was removed from the site to be dumped in land fill, nothing was retained for local interest. Fortunatley for me the site was not entirely cleared of Whale remains. After a couple of tides the strand line of the hover port slipway was a mass of congealed whale blood and whale meat. The rocks to the left as you look out to sea were coated in Whale blubber and around the base of the hover port slipway where large lumps of the whales innards oozing out a white waxy fat. Amongst all mess were splinters of bone fragments and at the base of the slipway were section of vertebrae in the mud. Considering nothing had been salvaged or retained for local interest I set about to salvage bone fragments. My intentions were to collect items for natural history purposes, or for artistic purposes (scrimshaw) to commemorate the event.
I collected many pieces which I either kept as found or as in the case of splinters I made into workable shapes. I even shaped some into arrow heads and needles.
I then carried out research into the whole subject of Whales, strandings and scrimshaw to add information to the collection I had amassed. It did not take long to discover that anything related to Whales was regulated by the CITES convention article 10. CITES being the control of international trade in endangered species. As this was the responsibility of DEFRA I then informed them I have Sperm Whale bone in my possession. In no uncertain terms I was told I could not own the bone without permission from the receiver of wrecks. Not being sure if I was acting legally or illegally I contacted my MP Luara Sandys for clarification.
To date, I have been informed by the receiver of wrecks that I can keep the Whale bone and DEFRA are happy for me to own it providing I contact Natural England who are the legal governing body on European species. However, I am now currently subject to restrictions, for example I cannot sell it as the Whale derivatives cannot be exploited for financial gain. This also means that if I donated the Whale bone to a Museum they cannot charge a entrance fee if the Whale bone is on exhibition as this is deemed as exploitation of the Whale for commercial purposes. In other countries that have signed up to CITIES like the USA and New Zealand, Whale bone from strandings can be exhibited in fee paying Museums and it can be crafted and sold within it's own territorial borders but cannot be exported.