It was just like something from a novel. When the vast carcass of a juvenile Humpback whale was found washed up inland in a remote mangrove swamp, fifty feet from the vast mouth of the Amazon river, it was a complete mystery.
It’s strange that a humpback whale was on the north coast of Brazil during February in the first place, an extremely unusual occurrence. Between August and November,humpback whales are found along Brazil’s Bahia coast, where they mate before migrating north. By February, they should be a very long way away in Antarctica.
The creature’s body, which was discovered thanks to the circling carrion-eating vultures circling above it, measures a whopping 26 feet long and weighs ten tons. It was found in dense undergrowth a short distance from the shore in the forest on the fringes of the north Brazilian state of Para, discovered by workers from the country’s department of health, sanitation and environment. Conservation staff from the Bicho d’Agua Institute, who were also at the site, think the whale was a twelve month old calf that was separated from its mum by a storm before being washed inland by huge tides.
There’s another theory. At this time of year the tide usually rises almost 13 feet, flooding the mangrove forest twice every 24 hours and driving massive amounts of man-made rubbish inland. Some experts think the already-dead and dramatically inflated carcass, full of the gases you get when a body decomposes, actually floated its way into the mangrove forest.
The animal wasn’t visibly wounded, and now experts are testing tissue samples to see if they can find out more about how it died. Sadly there might be plastic involved, with one theory suggesting the whale suffocated after inhaling massive amounts of waste plastic while looking for food near the beach. Another theory says climate change is causing confusion amongst whales, sending them to areas of the world they wouldn’t usually find themselves in, at odd times of year.
The whale’s remains will be left in the forest, being too difficult to move, but the skeleton itself will be carefully removed and sent to a natural history museum in the nearby city of Belem.