The death of a stray whale in a Japanese bay raises questions about the cause and cost of getting rid of it

TOKYO (AP) — A train-carriage-sized whale that died after straying into a Japanese bay is set to be buried naturally so it can become a skeletal specimen for a local museum.

It is the third year in a row that whales have been stranded in Osaka Bay, raising questions about the causes and costs of dealing with such incidents.

The animal, believed to be a male sperm whale, is about 12 meters (39 feet) long and weighs an estimated 20 tons, and was previously spotted at Sakai Sembuku port in mid-January.

Since then, it has been spotted in a number of locations in Osaka Bay, until Sunday, when the boat captain informed the Coast Guard that the whale was not breathing. Governorate officials and experts boarded a boat to examine the whale and confirmed its death on Monday, most likely due to starvation.

Toshihiro Yamawaki, a prefectural environmental department official, said Osaka officials decided to bury the dead whale in a section of an industrial waste disposal complex after cetacean experts conducted an autopsy and collected samples to determine the cause of the whale's death.

Television footage showed the dead whale being carefully lifted by a crane and transported to the burial site, where it will remain underground for a few years until it turns into a skeleton naturally. Officials will then dig it up and donate it to the local natural museum.

The cause of the delinquency is unknown.

Yamawaki said the whales have been sighted inside and outside Japan not only in Osaka Bay but throughout Japan, noting experts' view that the whales generally follow the movement of the Kuroshio warm tide. Scientists believe that those that somehow miscalculated the distance and got too close to the coast may become stranded.

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On average, more than 300 whale strandings are reported across Japan annually, although the number fluctuates each year. In 2020, more than 370 whale strandings were reported, while the number dropped to 116 last year, according to the National Museum of Nature and Science's whale stranding website.

The Osaka case concerns a single animal as do most other strandings, although sometimes several whales have been seen stranded on nearby coasts.

Experts pointed to a number of possible causes for the ship's stranding, including tidal fluctuations, diseases and climate change, but they are still under investigation.

Some experts have pointed out that the structure of Osaka Bay, which has many narrow passages, may make it difficult for stray whales to return to sea.

Once the whale was spotted, county officials began discussing what to do if it died in the Gulf. They learned their lesson the hard way last year, when another sperm whale, named Yudo-chan, died just four days after emerging and began decomposing, costing the public purse more than 80 million yen ($533,000). Raise criticism.

The cost of an offshore burial was nearly 10 times the amount spent in 2021 on another stray whale that was buried on land.

Osaka Governor Hirofumi Yoshimura reassured residents that “the cost will be much lower this time.”

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