Washed up whale carcass good for ecosystems if it's not too stinky
The carcass of a washed-up whale does not always have to be cleaned up immediately. The dead whale is a great food source for dozens of beetles and other animals and fulfills an important function in the ecosystem. If the dead animal is in a place where the stench is not a nuisance, and if it does not bother shipping, a cadaver could remain there for years.
Scientists from Wageningen Marine Research were commissioned by Rijkswaterstaat to monitor what happened to a whale that washed up dead on Rottummerplaat at the end of 2020. They advised not to always remove the carcasses immediately. One reason for removing washed-up whales is that the animals would have a lot of polluting cadmium in their bodies, but the whale on Rottummerplaat has not polluted the soil at all. Rijkswaterstaat is now going to discuss with other nature managers how whale carcasses will be handled in the future.
The dead whale in the dunes of Rottummerplaat attracted 57 species of beetles, 21 of which were new species. Some beetles, attracted by the smell, came flying from the mainland to the cadaver. All beetle species specialized in eating skin and bones.
Although the scientists expected that birds would be the first to eat the dead animal, that was not the case. Crows, magpies, and black-backed gulls tried, but the skin turned out to be too thick to be pecked open. After six months of decomposition, the whale was a feast for the beetles. The dead animal also released many nutrients into the soil. Further research has yet to show what the effect of this is.
The stench was not too bad, according to the researchers. "Some days the smell lingered and it was unpleasant to stay in it for a long time, but it was never intense," the scientists said.
Reporting by ANP