TWEED Shire Council has gone to extraordinary lengths to manage the exhumation of a whale buried in the sand dunes at Casuarina Beach, after it died at the site just over two weeks ago.
Security personnel were employed to guard contractors as they used a digger to extract the 500kg rotting carcass, buried about three metres deep in sand dunes off the high tide mark of the Tweed Coast beach.
The whale's body was in pieces when it was transported to Stotts Creek Resource Recovery Centre where it was later reburied in landfill.
Sand surrounding the burial site was also removed from the dunes.
The 3.38m baby sperm whale, which died from unknown causes, was buried by council under the guidelines of the National Parks and Wildlife Service, after the mammal stranded itself on the beach on January 4.
A decision to exhume the whale was made after a community outcry, with residents concerned oils leaching from the carcass might attract sharks or wild dogs to the area.
The backflip cost ratepayers up to $10,000 but was met with relief by tourism operators concerned Casuarina's image may be damaged by the saga.
Daryl Wright, owner of nearby accommodation provider Casuarina Beach House, said he was pleased council had decided to remove the carcass.
"That, in conjunction with the warning signs for the wild dogs everywhere, makes it seem like a dangerous place - I'm relieved the whale has been taken to the tip," Mr Wright said.
A National Parks and Wildlife spokesman confirmed council had made both the decision to bury and exhume the whale.
Both burial and exhumation operations were conducted amid great secrecy by council, with many of its own staff, including elected representatives, kept in the dark over the plans.
Media, originally told to meet at the site around 12pm today to film the removal of the carcass, were met by a security guard at the beach and informed the operation had been completed hours earlier.
Council's natural resource management co-ordinator Jane Lofthouse confirmed a dump truck with the whale flesh had departed the beach before 10am.
"There was quite a level of decomposition, it was scooped out in the excavator, and we excavated the sand around it, and that's also going to the tip," Ms Lofthouse said.
"It was localised leaching, but it was all fairly contained within the site."
Ms Lofthouse said there was no longer any threat to humans from the carcass attracting wild dogs to the area.
"There's three metres of sand over where the whale was," she said.
"It was up high in the dunes anyway, it's not a place where people should be walking around anyway, it's quite a remote section of the beach."
She defended council's original decision to bury the whale in the dunes.
"There's never been any evidence or scientific reason that's been put forward as to why you would not bury a carcass in the sand dunes," Ms Lofthouse said.
But Griffith University marine scientist Dr Olaf Meynecke said the best option would have been to dump the carcass out at sea.
"I highly recommend to dispose of marine animal carcasses at sea when feasible," Dr Meynecke said.
"By strategically placing them they may well deter sharks from coastal waters into offshore water."
Dr Meynecke said while he did not think oil from the whale would leach into the sea water, he still recommended placing warning signs on the beach.
"If a whale … has stranded, died and been on the beach in contact with seawater, I would recommend to make the public aware that a whale has stranded in the area at least for a few days after the animal has been removed," he said.
Only the third whale to have stranded on the Tweed Coast in the past 20 years, council said it would review its strategy for dealing with dead animals washed up on beaches.
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