The huge sea creature that washed up in Indonesia has been identified – but that doesn't make it any less horrifying.
Experts told The Independent that the monster is almost certainly some kind of whale carcass that has decomposed beyond easy recognition. More specifically, it has been identified as a baleen whale – which includes the blue whale and the humpback whale.
Scientists made that identification based on the parts of the whale that can be seen, which includes the presence of baleen – the filter system inside the mouth. But it won't be possible to tell what kind of baleen whale it is, simply because the carcass is too rotten and decomposed.
Where not to visit if you love animals
Where not to visit if you love animals
1/9 Monkey shows
Chimpanzees are forced to perform demeaning tricks on leashes and are often subject to cruel training techniques. Animals who are confined to small, barren enclosures and forced to perform unsurprisingly show symptoms of stress and depression. Chimpanzees have been documented rocking back and forth, sucking their lips, salivating and swaying against enclosure perimeters in distress.
2/9 Swimming with dolphins
Some marine parks use bottlenose dolphins in performances and offer visitors the opportunity to swim with dolphins. Unfortunately, people are often unaware that these animals are captured in the wild and torn from their families or traded between different parks around the world.
3/9 Tiger shows
Tigers are forced to live in an unnatural and barren environment and have to endure interactions with a constant stream of tourists. Since tigers never lose their wild instincts, across the world they are reportedly drugged, mutilated and restrained in order to make them “safe” for the public. However, every year, incidents of tiger maulings are reported at this type of tourist attraction.
4/9 Donkey rides
Sunning on the beach is great for humans – we can take a quick dip or catch a bite to eat when we get too hot or hungry. But it's pure hell for donkeys who are confined to the beach and forced to cart children around on the hot sand. Some donkey-ride operators at beach resorts in the UK even keep the animals chained together at all times.
5/9 Marine parks
Some parks confine orcas to concrete tanks and force them to perform meaningless tricks for food - many die in captivity. Orcas are highly intelligent and social mammals who may suffer immensely, both physically and mentally, when they're held in captivity.
6/9 Canned hunting
Lions are confined to fenced areas so that they can easily be cornered, with no chance of escape. Most of them will have been bred in captivity and then taken from their mothers to be hand-reared by the cub-petting industry. When they get too big, they may be drugged before they are released into a "hunting" enclosure. Because these animals are usually kept in fenced enclosures (ranging in size from just a few square yards to thousands of acres), they never stand a chance of surviving.
7/9 Running of the Bulls
Every year, tourists travel to Pamplona for the Running of the Bulls. The bulls who are forced to slip and slide down the town's narrow cobblestone streets are chased straight into the bullring. They are then taunted, stabbed repeatedly and finally killed by the matador in front of a jeering crowd. The majority of Spaniards reject bullfighting, but tourists are keeping the cruel industry on its last legs.
8/9 Horse-drawn carriages
City streets are no place for horses. The animals toil in all weather extremes, suffering from respiratory distress from breathing in exhaust fumes as well as numerous hoof, leg and back problems from walking on pavement all day long. As easily spooked prey animals, horses subjected to the loud noises and unexpected sounds of city streets are likely to be involved in accidents, even deadly ones.
The zoo community regards the animals it keeps as commodities, and animals are regularly bought, sold, borrowed and traded without any regard for established relationships. Zoos breed animals because the presence of babies draws visitors and boosts revenue, yet often, there's nowhere to put the offspring as they grow, and they are killed, as we recently saw with Marius the giraffe in Denmark. Some zoos have introduced evening events with loud music and alcohol which disrupt the incarcerated animals even further.
There had been some speculation that the beast was a giant squid. But giant squid don't have bones, and they can be very clearly seen in the pictures of the organism, said Rob Deaville, who is project manager for the UK Cetacean Stranding Investigation Programme (CSIP) at Zoological Society of London.
Deaville's work involves responding on behalf of the government to beached whales in the UK, finding out what they are and how they died, and helping to get rid of them.
Asked what he would do if such a beast washed up near him, Deaville said he would "try and avoid being near there, given how decomposed it was". That decomposition means that the animal is likely to be very disgusting – but also that the work done by CSIP would be difficult, because there wouldn't be any obvious way of identifying it.
Richard Barnes, a world-renowned expert on coastal marine ecology and invertebrate zoology, said that it was hard to know exactly what it was from the pictures. He said he would bet on it being a whale carcass, but that was "really only a best guess" because of the state of the creature.
"It doesn’t seem to have too many of its 'in life' features on show, being just a mass of blubber!" he told The Independent. "So, I’m simply going by what whale carcasses look like after they’ve been stripped of their outer skin by sharks etc."
If such specimen washed up in the UK, Deaville would guess that it had been dead for weeks, he said. But the warmer waters in Indonesia may help decomposition happen more quickly, and so the animal could have been dead for less time than the horrifying sight suggests.
The decomposition means that it isn't possible to see how the whale might have died. Threats to baleen whales include being struck by ships or getting entangled in gear, but checking whether that happens requires the whale to be in some kind of identifiable shape.
With such a decomposed specimen, it might be possible to take a piece of skin and conduct genetic analysis to work out what species it was. It might also be possible to work out what species live in the area, find out how long they are, and then compare that measurement with the sea beast's length.
Ordinarily, whales fall to the depths of the water when they die. That can be a helpful process because the whales serve as an oasis of marine life to form around them.
Beaching may seem like a sadder place for a whale to end up, especially since it is such an obvious reminder that they have died. But Deaville cautioned that such stories can also be positive – there has been an increased number of beachings in the UK, for instance, which is likely because there are more whales around after commercial whaling was outlawed.
Now the whale could either be brought onto land for disposal through incineration or landfill, or – if the area was sufficiently isolated – left to decompose in the water. The beast shouldn't be pushed back out to sea because it would pose a danger for any passing ships, Deaville cautioned.
Stories of horrifying beached sea beasts tend to come out about once a year, Deaville said, and they almost inevitably turn out just to be the remains of a decomposed whale. That has happened before in places including the UK.
But such beachings can reveal new kinds of sea creatures – scientists like Deaville are still finding new species of whales and that can sometimes be just from a small piece of their body washed up on a beach.
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