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SCU researcher conducts whale autopsy


6 October 2004
A melon-headed whale found stranded at New Brighton near Brunswick Heads on Friday was infested with a number of different parasites and probably died of a bacterial infection, according to Southern Cross University researcher Christine Fury.

Ms Fury, a PhD candidate with SCU’s Whale Research Centre, conducted a necropsy (autopsy) on the adult female, which was 2.6 metres long.

“It was found on the beach and people pushed it back out to sea, but it was too sick and came back a few hours later,” Ms Fury said.

She said the incident was a timely reminder that people discovering stranded marine animals should not immediately try and push them back into the water.

“Most of the individual animals that strand themselves are going to die. People always think that by pushing them back into the water they will be fine, but usually for lone animals they are coming in to lie down and die.”

Ms Fury said if anyone discovered a stranded animal they should immediately contact the National Parks and Wildlife Service or Southern Cross University’s Whale Research Centre and just try and make the animal comfortable.

“They can provide shade and put water on them, but call someone as soon as possible.”

Ms Fury said the melon-headed whale had tapeworm and round worm infestations as well as two wounds from a ‘cookie-cutter shark’.

“She was very sick and would have had no energy to swim around and she hadn’t eaten for a while.”

Ms Fury, who is one of a team of researchers at SCU’s Whale Research Centre, is conducting research into the habitat use and population dynamics of Bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus) in the Richmond and Clarence estuaries.

Associate Professor Peter Harrison, the director of SCU’s Whale Research Centre, said the centre had a number of researchers looking at various aspects of dolphins and whales and encouraged members of the public to notify them of any animals that became stranded or were found dead.

“We are very keen to obtain information on whales or dolphins that die in this region so we can build up a long-term database. That information will help to ensure the ongoing protection of the animals, particularly the humpback whale population which is still a long way from pre-whaling numbers.”

Media contact: Brigid Veale, SCU Media Liaison, 66593006 or m. 0439 680 748.