Chris Barraclough of Coolum Boardriders Club with part of a whale jawbone left lodged in rocks at Point Arkright after a carcass was pulled back to sea.
Chris Barraclough of Coolum Boardriders Club with part of a whale jawbone left lodged in rocks at Point Arkright after a carcass was pulled back to sea. Patrick Woods

The ugly truth about booming whale numbers

A WHALE carcass that washed ashore at Yaroomba had quickly become a magnet for tiger sharks, raising serious questions about the management of future incidents.

Current Department of Environment and Science policy was to simply monitor reports of carcasses in the ocean and for the local authority to take responsibility for the mess if they washed ashore.

That approach last week resulted in a stinking carcass that observers said caused some to feel physically ill when it came ashore at the edge of Coolum's Third Bay, lodging flesh and bone among the rocks and spreading oil through the surf zone.

Scientists have warned that after 35 years of constant 11 per cent annual growth with the population doubling every seven years a collapse could come as soon as 2022.

If that does occur, University of Queensland Cetacean Ecology and Acoustics Laboratory scientist Michael Noad said it would result in increased mortality, particularly on the humpback whale migration back south to the Antarctic.

"Weak whales would come onto beaches and dead whales would wash ashore," he said.

The last survey of numbers past the Sunshine Coast before funding was cut in 2015 counted 26,000 animals with more than 30,000 estimated to pass the region in 2016.

"There needs to be policy to deal with it," Associate Professor Noad said. "There would also be shipping hazards.

"It's a real possibility with real problems that require cooperation and foresight."

Department of Agriculture and Fisheries records show two tiger sharks - one measuring 2.8 metres and 1.2 metres - were caught by Queensland Shark Control drum lines at Yaroomba and Coolum in a four-day period around the latest incident.

These numbers compared with only two tiger sharks, the largest 2.23 metres, that were caught across the entire 2017 calendar year.

Coolum Boardriders Club president Chris Barraclough said he had received reports from fishermen of two sharks hanging around the Third Bay and Yaroomba surf zones through last weekend.

He said recreational fishers had also observed remains of the carcass 1.5km out to sea being attacked by tiger sharks to four metres in length.

The stinking remains had not been pulled back out to sea until after the carcass had lodged ashore, leaving blubber, bone and sections of its jaw wedged in rocks.

In response to questions put by the Sunshine Coast Daily at the time of the incident a Department of Environment and Science spokesperson said it was monitoring the situation with Sunshine Coast Council.

"Should the whale wash ashore, the local council responsible for the beach manages the appropriate disposal," the spokesman said.

Should whale carcasses on Coast beaches be handled better in the future?

This poll ended on 01 December 2018.

Current Results

I think everyone did a great job.


Yes, we shouldn't wait until it washes ashore.


I'm not sure.


This is not a scientific poll. The results reflect only the opinions of those who chose to participate.

Lifelong Yaroomba resident and surfer Daryl Maudsley said the smart move would be to pull the carcasses well out to sea.

"This is a tourist area, the smell puts people off," he said. "They should manage the problem, take it out to sea and sink it.

"People felt physically ill from the smell. There was grease and flesh on the beach that had to be cleaned up. If they see it coming they should solve the problem before it's started."

A Sunshine Coast Council spokesperson said the recent number of whale-related incidents have given council the opportunity to fine-tune its responses.

"It is likely these incidents will become more common place as whale numbers increase," the spokesperson said.

"As a result of this most recent event, our council officers are working closely with the State Government to determine how we may each respond at an earlier stage.

"We will continue to work with all agencies as required when these events arise in future."

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