A whale of a problem on Basque coastline

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The Independent Online

A 50-ton whale that washed up on a rocky beach near the Basque fishing port of Bermeo at the weekend was first a curiosity, but has become a huge headache as the authorities yesterday reckoned it would cost €12,000 (£8,500) to clear its body away.

A 50-ton whale that washed up on a rocky beach near the Basque fishing port of Bermeo at the weekend was first a curiosity, but has become a huge headache as the authorities yesterday reckoned it would cost €12,000 (£8,500) to clear its body away.

Dozens of visitors clambered over rocks to examine the 20m ridged rorqual Balaenoptera physalus, the second biggest animal on the planet after the blue whale. One enthusiast, armed with a sharp knife, cut off one of the creature's giant whiskers and carried it home as a trophy.

But authorities scratched their heads wondering whether to drag the animal out to sea, cut it into pieces or simply wait for the tides to sweep it back.

Josu Apraiz, mayor of the village of Matxitxako near Bermeo, said the town hall favoured dragging the whale out to sea with high-powered tugs. The creature would have to be moved in a "complex and difficult operation" - because it was so huge - or blown up with explosives for fish to eat, but that risked leaving huge portions adrift on the high seas, Mr Apraiz said.

Tides would not be favourable to mount the operation before Sunday, he added.

Experts believe the whale fell ill and died before being washed up on the shore, but have taken skin samples to ascertain cause of death.

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