A ROTTING whale carcass at Smiths Beach has led champion surfer Jake Paterson to label the beach as ‘marked’ for sharks.
The beach has been effectively closed since the seven metre whale was buried late last month, and it is threatening to prevent both surfers and the surf lifesaving club from enjoying the popular area.
A Department of Environment and Conservation sign at the main access point says “it is recommended that – you do not swim or surf in this area” and admits the whale carcass “may still have the potential to attract sharks”.
DEC Blackwood district manager Greg Mair said they did not believe the burial would affect people’s ability to use the area.
“The signs are there as a precaution, given the potential for attracting sharks,” he said.
“We don’t believe it is a health risk, and our observation is that people will still use the water.
“Many people will choose to disregard the sign, when there’s a shark attack you still see surfers in the water later that day, so people will make their own assessment.”
Jake Paterson has joined the chorus of locals outraged at the decision to bury the whale, rather than remove it from the site.
“It sat there for two weeks before they did anything about it,” Jake Paterson said.
“It’s all about prevention, the best option would have been to take it away.
“If it costs more to remove it, big deal. What’s the cost of removing it compared to us losing the whole economy?
“It will only take one more shark attack and the whole community will feel the effect. The beach is marked now.”
One example of the community feeling the effect is with Crystal Simpson, who owns the Yallingup Surf School.
She says her inability to use the beach will have a massive effect on her livelihood.
“It’s definitely unacceptable that the whale is there, this will affect the local community,” she said.
“I’m out on the water eight hours a day for three months a year, and this beach is my livelihood.
“For kids like those at Steiner School, they’re meant to start lessons after the school holidays.
“I can’t do those at the moment. If nothing happens within a few weeks, I’m sure we’ll be rallying to get a crew to sort it ourselves.”
The DEC said the decision to bury the whale rather than remove it had been carefully thought out.
“The whale was reported to us on August 28, and it was in an advanced state of decomposition, missing many parts,” Mr Mair said.
“Given the state of it, the decision was made to bury it in situ.
“We are monitoring the site every second day, and we’re looking for evidence of the whale leeching back into the environment.
“We’re acutely aware of potential health risks, and if there’s any evidence of that then we’ll look at our options in terms of outright burial.”
When the Mail visited the site, approximately 200m from the main Smiths Beach access steps and less than 50m from the shoreline, a dog had found a piece of whale carcass on the surface of the beach.
The surf lifesaving season was also close to beginning, but is now in doubt due to the safety of the beach, leading a number of local residents to voice their concerns about the decision.
“There are hundreds of kids involved with surf lifesaving, and they need a slight wave break to do their training,” Melissa Walsh said.
“They can’t just move to another beach, there should have been community consultation about this.
“The longer they leave it now, the more difficult the situation will become.
“It will require a lot of manpower to move it, but I hope the local community will rally around,” she said.
“It’s ludicrous that they would do this, especially with the sharks at the moment. This used to be a safe spot for kids,” Adele Hart said.
“It’s a bit of a joke for the DEC to say they are monitoring it – what exactly are they doing?” Antonia Wise said.
“What’s the cost of human life?
“My husband and son haven’t surfed since the whale was buried, and my dogs have had a field day at the beach.”
Vasse MLA Troy Buswell said he had been contacted by concerned locals over the past couple of weeks and he had raised the matter with the Minister for the Environment.
“Our prepared position is to dig it up and dispose of it elsewhere. If they had moved it away from the coast it would have removed that risk (leeching into the ocean) all together.
“Clearly there is local sensitivity to shark attack and shark activity and they could have disposed of the carcass in a much better way.
“The fact they are going to monitor it indicates there is a possibility it (leeching) could happen.”