The town of Albany has more than the average quota of people who know how to kill whales. It may have been thirty years since the last land-based whaling station in the southern hemisphere operated here, but those guys are still around.
For four days now, a young humpback whale has been dying on a sand bank in the harbour. The Department of Environment and Conservation have decided that the whale will die naturally. At twenty five feet and seventeen tonnes, it is too big to shoot. It is said to be 'winding down'. How long this takes is anyone's guess. "I don't feel right about this either," Mark from Fisheries told me. "But Peter from DEC reckons his hands are tied."
It seems that the young whale has been separated from its mother and, lost, hungry and pining, ended up on a sand bar in Princess Royal Harbour. 'Winding down' may sound like an innocuous term for dying slowly in the sun but it actually holds some truth. Apparently when young whales strand, their internal clocks turn backward, to inevitable death.
DEC's instructions to the public are: stay away - "closer than 100 metres to a whale and you will be prosecuted. The whale will die 'naturally'". This means no wet blankets to soothe its blistering skin, no company, nothing.
I saw the whale this morning and it hadn't 'wound down' much from when I visited twelve hours before. The whale was still breathing regularly and moving, trying the get off the sand bar.The Department of Planning and Infrastructure motored out to the whale in the Fisheries boat. They met the Port Authority tender out there - both just checking they didn't need to tow away a dead whale. When they ascertained that the whale was still alive, they left.
If it was dying on the town beach, instead of out in the middle of the harbour, would DEC investigate ways of euthanizing the whale?And now that we all know that a whale is dying slowly in front of us - is letting it die 'naturally' the right thing to do? Surely once we are aware of suffering, then ignoring it is cruel, not 'natural'.
I look out the window and see the yellow markers, the curious boaties and the persistent spray, a little cloud above the choppy water, misting to the east ... the breath of a whale.