Four Sperm Whales Stranded at Yancheng City in Jiangsu Province

Although this incident happened not in Hong Kong but in Jiangsu north of Shanghai, in January of 2003 Hong Kong also had a sperm whale stranding. Sperm whales are large animals that roam large distances, so this stranding is relevant to Hong Kong marine life, too.

Four sperm whales that were stranded ashore on the 16th of March 2012 at Xintan Salt Field in the coastal city of Yancheng in Jiangsu province. The whales, including a female, were still struggling when they were spotted, residents said. Reports about the size of the whales varied widely, but the pictures speak for themselves:

Sperm whale strandings in Jiangsu
At first the whales were still found struggling to return to sea
Sperm whale stranded in Jiangsu
Frontier defense soldier trying to keep the whale cool and moist
Sperm whale stranded at Yancheng in Jiangsu
A crowd gathered around one of the stranded sperm whales

Sperm whale stranding in Jiangsu

Sperm whale stranding in Jiangsu
A boy standing on the side of the head of one of the whales
A police cordon is established around one of the whales…
Sperm whale strandings in Jiangsu
One of the whales in its full length

After more than 24 hours of rescue attempts the four whales died. Five rescue plans were put forward, including using helicopters and large vessels to pull the whales back out to sea, digging water channels to re-float them and waiting for a huge rising tide. “But because of the size and physical condition of the whales, all plans failed,” said Xu Xinrong, an animal researcher from Nanjing Normal University who specializes in cetacean mammals. “Small-sized whales sometimes can be rescued when they are stranded on the beach, but mass strandings of big whales is fatal,” Xu said. It was China’s first mass beaching of whales since 1985, when six whales died in the Fujian province. New footage of the incident is available here.

It was later discovered that pieces of flesh had been cut from at least one of the whales’ bodies for food. On March 18, some pieces of the sperm whales’ flesh were found cut away for food, according to a report by China Radio International. The cutting was likely done at night and about 100 kilograms of flesh was removed. ChinaSmack has an article on the incident (please be aware, the article has some swear words) with translations of Chinese internet users discussions on the incident which show a great deal of respect for whales and their conservation. Here are some of the images of the mutilations from the ChinaSMACK website:

Sperm whale stranded in Jiangsu flesh cut off
Chunks of flesh were cut from the flukes
sperm whale stranded in Jiangsu had teeth removed
Teeth were removed from the lower jaw of this male.
stranded sperm whale in Jiangsu with dorsal fin cut off
The small dorsal fin was cut off
sperm whale stranded in Jiangsu has fluke flesh cut off
Chunks cut off the flukes of a stranded sperm whale
stranded sperm whale in Jiangsu with flesh cut out from back
Chunks cut of the lower back leading to the flukes.

Sperm whales, though distributed in nearly all of the earth’s oceans, prefer deep waters and can dive to a depth of 2,200 meters, said Xu. Local authorities said that disposing of the whale carcasses was now a problem. “Generally there are three ways to dispose of a whale carcass: make a specimen of it, bury it on the beach or let the tides take it back into the ocean,” Xu said. In the end they buried the whales in deep pits on the beach.

Sperm whales have stranded in the region before. In January 2004 a sperm whale that stranded in Taiwan made headlines because while being transported on a trailer through a town, it exploded due to the build up of gas from decomposition, spraying surrounding pedestrians and buildings with offal and blood.

exploded whale carcass in Taiwan
Build of of decomposition gases in the carcass caused it to explode during transit through a town.