The 950 residents of Cape St. George, a town in Newfoundland and Labrador, are grappling with how to dispose of the dead sperm whale that washed up on its beach about five days ago.
At first they tried to sell it, thinking a museum might want it – and they could make some money for that skate park the kids in town want.
So, for a brief time Monday, the mayor and his council had the 12-metre sperm whale for auction on eBay. It was going well for several hours – 70 bids worth about $2,000 – until the online site shut it down, citing its policy against "listing mammal parts," said Mayor Peter Fenwick, in a telephone interview. Cape St. George is located on the southwestern tip of Newfoundland's Port au Port Peninsula.
Around the same time, the federal Environment Department called, threatening the town with prosecution if it didn't remove it, the mayor says. "It turns out that the sperm whale, which in my opinion is quite abundant, is on the endangered species list and you can't sell any of it," he said.
Now, the town is offering it for free. The mayor is hoping one of the bidders on eBay is still interested "in moving the darn thing."
"It's in half decent shape," Mr. Fenwick said. "This one looks like it died very recently and hasn't decomposed much."
He and his council called an emergency meeting Sunday and decided to take the unusual action of auctioning off the whale – they also considered Kijiji – after federal and provincial government officials told them, "It's your problem, you solve it," the mayor said.
The beast is lying on the beach very close to some houses and fishing stations, so when it starts to decompose it will be a "real nuisance," the mayor said, referring to the stench.
Wayne Ledwell of Newfoundland's Whale Release and Strandings, an expert on saving entangled whales, had advised the town to tow the whale out to an isolated area and let "nature take its course."
The mayor said they had tried that. They asked a local fisherman, the one with the largest boat in town, to tow it away but he took one look at it and didn't think his engine was big enough.
"They need to do that right away, when they come in and they're fresh," Mr. Ledwell says. "No one wants to go touch them … everything becomes gooey and slippery and you can't stand up on the whale and it gets on your boots and you can't get the smell off and then you go home and the dog rolls in it and you get it in your kitchen and you curse the whales, and you curse the government and … it becomes a mess."
Mr. Ledwell says it has been a "bad year" for whales washing ashore.
Mr. Fenwick knows that his sperm whale – he's calling it the "pride of Cape St. George – can't compete with the huge blue whales. But he notes that the sperm whale is the largest of the "toothed whales" and says it would be a great attraction for a museum. It has a "huge lower jaw" and "big domed forehead."
"Everything you ever saw on Moby Dick," he adds.