A Whale of a Tale
by Donna Malloy
When I was five-years-old, a giant whale beached itself at the end of my street on Long Beach Island, New Jersey. Word spread quickly throughout the neighborhood and moments later my siblings and I were running down the beach to see the mighty creature. As we circled the giant mammal, we slid our hands down its back, which was dry and rough. Although some volunteers tried to keep the whale watered down, it was to no avail.
The dead whale, estimated at weighing approximately 70 tons, (although like most fish tales it was never confirmed), lay parallel to the shore for the next four days. No one was sure what kind of whale it was or why it had beached itself in the first place.
Discussion as to how to remove the whale became the hot topic throughout the township. Our island newspaper, The Beachcomber, reported that local resident Gary Gore, who was 17-years-old at the time, tried to burn the whale one night with his buddies, using tires and gasoline, but “they (gas and tires) didn’t do anything.”
Desperate to remove the whale before it began to decompose in the hot sun, the city hired George Damon, well-known on the 18-mile long island as someone who was into “everything that was ever going on” to remove the whale carcass, stated Gore. (Later it was learned that Damon had little expertise in dealing with explosives.)
For safety reasons, everyone was directed to watch the event from the sand dunes. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Damon told then township Mayor James Mancini that he would “put a metal mesh net over the whale, so that when he blew it up, the exploding flesh would be contained by the net.”
After placing a few sticks of dynamite into the whale’s blubber, he then added a few more to be sure he accomplished his goal. The neighborhood anxiously waited for the dynamite to detonate. BOOM!
At first, a cloud of white smoke hovered where moments before the impressive whale had rested. Seconds later, a shower of dark whale blubber and blood began to fall from the sky. The slimy blubber landed everywhere; on the beach, on by-standers, roofs and decks. People started to laugh at Damon’s folly; it was rumored that he left town shortly after this dramatic event.
Post-explosion, everyone began to bury the blubber that landed back on the beach and the beachfront homeowners were on their own to clean up the blubber that splat onto their windows and roofs. To this day, no one knows why the great whale beached itself or whether it was the result of a natural occurrence when whales are diseased. But the incident was well remembered because it was an unusual event.
But unfortunately, that may be changing. According to Ron Word of the Huffington Post: “The National Marine Fisheries Service just approved the Navy's plan to do sonar training along the Eastern Seaboard, the right whales' habitat; but requires it to take precautions to protect the whales and other marine animals.
The Navy also wants to locate an anti-submarine warfare training
range on 75 miles off the north Florida coast. Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base and Mayport Naval Station are nearby. The facility, the Navy says, would enable it to train in a shallow-water environment. The affect on marine mammals would be negligible, the Navy said.”
But not all environmentalists agree. The “environmentalists argue that mid-frequency active sonar can disrupt whale feeding patterns, and in the most extreme cases can kill whales by causing them to beach themselves. Scientists don't fully know how it hurts whales. ‘In proposing to locate the training range just outside of this federally designated right whale critical habitat, the Navy ignores or turns a willful blind eye to the various risks posed by its activities,’ said Catherine Wannamaker, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center in Atlanta.
The Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission are also concerned about the sonar. Florida has asked the Navy to cancel the project or at least close the range from mid-October to mid-April. That's the period the whales are in the area” continued the article.
To date, no decision has been made and the question remains, will society be able to balance the protection of the endangered North Atlantic right whale, whose playground is in this specific area, with the military’s need to use sonar for training?
A November 2008 U.S. Supreme Court ruling may tell the tale: In Southern California the Supreme Court ruled that military training was more important than protecting whales.
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