10 July 2015

Whale in Singapore!

A whale has washed up in Singapore! Thanks to the alert by Mr Jailani on social media.
Photo by the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum.
It did not die in vain as it is now being salvaged by the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum staff, volunteers with help from the agencies.


The Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum posted on facebook this story and photos.

The museum received reports of a whale this morning, and 9 of our staff have been deployed to salvage the specimen. It was identified by our curators to be a sperm whale, which is internationally threatened with extinction, and recorded here for the first time.
We thank the member of the public (Mr Jailani) who posted it, volunteers who have helped us, and the agencies who are lending us a hand at the moment.


Here's articles about it in the media:

Sperm whale carcass found in Jurong Island
Audrey Tan Straits Times 10 Jul 15;

SINGAPORE - The carcass of a sperm whale was found floating near Jurong Island on Friday morning.

The 10m-long carcass was picked up by five staff from the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum for analysis.

They are working with the authorities to secure the animal so valuable information can be gleaned from it.

The cause of death is not clear, although The Straits Times saw blood pouring from its fin when the newspaper visited the site where the animal was located.

A pungent smell of dead fish wafted through the air near the site of the carcass.

If the carcass is confirmed to be that of a sperm whale, it would be the first sighting of this species of whale in Singapore.

Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum head Peter Ng said it was an exciting find.

Mature sperm whales can grow up to 20m in length. They are the largest toothed whales and can be found in all of the world's oceans. Still, it is considered rare in this region.





JUST IN: Sperm whale carcass found in Jurong Island. str.sg/bKuThe 10m-long carcass was picked up by five staff from the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum for analysis. The cause of death was not immediately clear.VIDEO: LIM YAOHUI
Posted by The Straits Times on Friday, 10 July 2015

Carcass of sperm whale found near Jurong Island
NEO CHAI CHIN Today Online 10 Jul 15;

SINGAPORE — The carcass of a sperm whale was discovered this morning (July 10) floating near Jurong Island — the first time the species has been sighted in Singapore.
The person who had discovered it posted about it on social media. When Professor Peter Ng of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum learnt about it, he got his team to track it down and last night, the creature was brought in by a Maritime and Port Authority (MPA) boat.
The dead whale — only the third sperm whale recorded in South-east Asian waters — is a notable discovery, and is of scientific and heritage value to Singapore, said Prof Ng. South-east Asian waters are not normally favoured by large whales because of shallow waters; they would normally inhabit the Java Sea, South China Sea and the oceans, he noted.
The whale had multiple lesions on its body, suggesting it could have been hit by a large boat.

The animal would have been beautiful alive, Prof Ng remarked as the carcass arrived at Tuas Marine Transfer Station. The natural history museum engaged a lorry crane to pull it onto land — an exercise that lasted more than two hours — and staff and interns began collecting samples soon after.

“Anything that’s found floating in Singapore waters, the agencies will have to take care of it,” said Prof Ng. “In the water, the MPA has to worry about it because we don’t want boats crashing into it.

“The National Environment Agency has to be informed because, well, it’s a dead whale. So automatically we sought their help to find out where the whale is and what can be done.”

The carcass would either have floated out of Singapore waters or been removed from the water and incinerated. “But we didn’t want that to happen,” said Prof Ng.

When his team found that the ­rare find was over 10m long and freshly dead, “it’s even more important that we secure the whale for science and for Singapore”, he added.

Ideally, its skeleton would be put on display at the natural history museum “for generations to come” but, last night, Prof Ng said he was only focused on securing the carcass so tissue samples could be taken and its important parts such as muscles are preserved. Over the next few days, the animal will be fussed over by scientists.

It is difficult to tell how long the process of removing its flesh and getting the skeleton out will take “because we’ve never done this before ... we’ll do our best”, Prof Ng said.

Dead sperm whale found near Jurong Island
The Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum says this is the first time a sperm whale sighting has been recorded in Singapore.
Jack Board Channel NewsAsia 10 Jul 15;

SINGAPORE: The bloodied carcass of a sperm whale was found off the coast of Jurong Island on Friday morning (Jul 10).

This is the first time that a sperm whale sighting has been recorded in Singapore, the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum said on Facebook. Nine of its staff were deployed to salvage the specimen. "It was identified by our curators to be a sperm whale, which is internationally threatened with extinction," the museum added.

According to the museum, the whale is between 10 and 15 metres in length. Sperm whales can grow up to 20 metres.

A National University of Singapore team said they plan to take DNA samples on Friday night and remove the flesh of the whale on Saturday. The aim is to remove the entire skeleton of the whale intact and researchers hope to study what's inside its stomach. The flesh will be incinerated.

(Photo: Jack Board)

“Currently, the team is trying to secure the whale carcass. The next step will be to try to recover the skeleton and key parts of the carcass for research purposes,” a spokesperson added.
 (Photo: Jack Board)

The process of extracting tissue, removing flesh from the carcass and getting out the skeleton could take up to several weeks, said Professor Peter Ng, Director of Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum.
 (Photo: Jack Board)

"We have never done it before. The biggest animal we’ve handled is maybe a large dolphin. That’s nothing compared to this," he said.

A member of the public, whom they identified as Mr Jailani, had tipped them off. Another member of the public, Christine, emailed Channel NewsAsia a photo of the whale (below), saying it was seen floating in waters near an offshore tank terminal.

(Photo: Christine)

The last time Singapore retrieved a large animal carcass from the sea was more than 20 years ago, according to Professor Ng. A large dolphin, known as a false killer whale, had washed up in Singapore waters at that time.

Professor Ng also revealed that a dead whale was found off Pedra Branca about six to seven years ago, but it could not be retrieved as it was "very rotten" and was floating in the open sea.

"The last time something this big washed into our waters was, I think, maybe even before independence," he said.

It is uncommon for whales to inhabit Southeast Asian waters as they are too shallow, said Prof Ng.

"For medium-sized to large whales, we speculate that they are just passing through - maybe taking a shortcut," he explained. "They will inhabit deeper waters in the Java Sea, Indian Ocean and South China Sea."

He added that the whale may have bumped into a large boat while passing the area.

The whale was finally brought to shore at 9.15pm on Friday evening, after an operation involving various government bodies, including the Maritime Port Authority and the National Environment Agency, who pitched in to help staff from the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum salvage the carcass.
(Photo: Jack Board)

This is the second time Singapore has had a whale carcass in its custody.

In 1892, a blue whale about 13m long had beached in southern Malacca. Its skeleton was displayed at Singapore's old National Museum. It is, however, no longer there. The skeleton was given to Malaysia's Muzium Negara in 1972.

The National Museum plans put the sperm whale's skeleton on display once research has been completed.



JUST IN: A dead sperm whale has been brought ashore at Tuas. Experts told Jack Board this type of whale is more commonly sighted in Indonesia, but never before in Singapore. http://bit.ly/1JTUEiP
Posted by Channel NewsAsia Singapore on Friday, 10 July 2015



WHALE OF A FIND: How a team from the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum recovered the carcass of a sperm whale found off Jurong Island. http://bit.ly/1JTUEiP (Video: Jack Board)
Posted by Channel NewsAsia Singapore on Friday, 10 July 2015


WHALE OF A FIND: How a team from the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum recovered the carcass of a sperm whale found off Jurong Island. http://bit.ly/1JTUEiP (Video: Jack Board)
Posted by Channel NewsAsia Singapore on Friday, 10 July 2015



Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister for the Environment & Water Resources also posted about the whale on facebook:

"An unofficial 'national' effort - The Lee Kong Chiang Natural History Museum, MPA, NEA and other supporters are now trying to bring the carcass of the sperm whale that was found at Jurong Island to Tuas. I hope we will be able to at least preserve the skeleton for display. Brings back memories of the whale that used to be at the National Museum that I visited as a child."


Dead whale could take 'several weeks' to dissect: Museum
Built-up gas within it's decomposed stomach poses the main risk to scientists from the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum.
Edric Sng Channel NewsAsia 11 Jul 15;
 Staff from the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum inserting a tube to release gas from the sperm whale's gut. (Photo: Edric Sng)

SINGAPORE: It could take "up to several weeks" before the rotting carcass of the sperm whale that washed up on Singapore's shores is fully dissected and brought indoors for further examination, staff from the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) said.

The main risk: The high likelihood of the whale's decomposing innards exploding, said Mr Foo Maosheng, curator of the cryogenic collection at the LKCNHM.

When Channel NewsAsia visited the location of the carcass at Tuas South on Saturday morning (Jul 11), staff from the museum were seen inserting a straw-like metal rod into various parts of the underside of the whale's belly. This was meant to allow the built-up gas in the belly to be released slowly and safely, Mr Foo said.

"We are now working to extract the part that decomposes fastest: The gut," he said. "First we are releasing air from the gut - it's well known that the gut of a dead whale can explode."
"It's hard to tell how long it will take. This is our first time doing anything like this, it could take at least a week to several weeks to deflesh the whole thing," Mr Foo added. "We are not working through the night. Its not safe to work overnight. It's a biohazard. And there's not much light, we need to stay safe."

Apart from preserving the skeleton for possible display, Mr Foo said they also plan to extract some tissue for DNA tests as well as study the contents of the whale's stomach, which could give some clues on the whale's final days and the route it took to Singapore.

The bloodied carcass of the sperm whale was spotted off the coast of Jurong Island on Friday morning. The whale was finally brought to shore at 9.15pm on Friday evening, after an operation involving various government bodies, including the Maritime Port Authority and the National Environment Agency, who pitched in to help staff from the LKCNHM salvage the carcass.

The age and gender of the whale are not yet known.

"We can't tell it's age for sure but it's young," said Mr Foo. "Males can grow up to 18m. This is 10.6m. We can't tell if it's male or female - the genitals are hidden away."

- CNA/av



Some Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum staff have started inserting metal tubes into the dead sperm whale spotted at Jurong Island yesterday. Find out why: bit.ly/1KWbXzX
Posted by Channel NewsAsia Singapore on Friday, 10 July 2015

Dead sperm whale found off Jurong Island
Audrey Tan and Chew Hui Min Straits Times 11 Jul 15; Also on AsiaOne

SINGAPORE - A sperm whale’s 10m-long carcass was found floating off Jurong Island on Friday morning.

The species had never previously been found in the waters around Singapore or peninsular Malaysia.
Oil industry worker Mr Jailani Salleh told The Straits Times that he spotted the dead mammal under a jetty at around 7.45am and posted a video of it on Facebook.

Mr Marcus Chua, curator of mammals and birds at the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum, was informed and told The Straits Times it was an “exciting find”. It is to be studied by scientists.

The museum will now work to preserve the specimen, believed to be a young adult. A museum volunteer then informed Mr Chua about the incident at about 9.30am.

At about 2pm, after arrangements were made with the authorities to enter restricted areas and to secure equipment and boats, Mr Chua and eight of his colleagues were deployed to secure the carcass. The cause of death has not yet been determined.
When The Straits Times visited the scene, blood was pouring from its fin. However, Mr Chua said the injury could have been sustained after it died. It was too early to conclude that the wound was the cause of its death, as it could have been afflicted posthumously.

The whale appeared to have been dead for several days because of the rot on its body and tongue. With the help and assistance of the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore, the whale was towed across the West Johor Strait on a three-hour journey to the Tuas Marine Transfer Station for further examination.

Searchlight deployed to help authorities get whale carcass on shore

It will be left there at the restricted location for around a week while researchers prepare the skeleton and collect data.

This work will include taking samples of its muscle tissue, which contains precious genetic information, and studying the contents of its stomach.

The museum’s scientific officer, Mr Foo Maosheng - one of the team members - said: “By studying its stomach contents, we can possibly tell where it has been feeding and at what depths.”

The whale is estimated to weigh between seven and 10 tonnes. Museum conservator Kate Pocklington said the next step is to remove the skin, internal organs and fat from the whale, which is estimated to weigh three to five tonnes.

Since its bones are porous, researchers must figure out the best way to remove the oil from them while preserving the skeleton, which is important as it will tell researchers more about its length and anatomy.

Ms Isabelle Tan, 23, a dolphin researcher and campaigns executive from the Animal Concerns Research and Education Society, said: "It is encouraging to know that this species of whale was found in our waters, especially as people often think Singapore has no marine life.

“The sightings are a good reminder that they are there and there is a need to protect the marine environment.

"We urge members of the public to continue reporting dolphin and whale sighting to Acres."



5 things to know about sperm whales
Chang Ai-Lien Straits Times 10 Jul 15;

A 10m sperm whale was found dead off Jurong Island on Friday, possibly the first time the giant mammal has been seen in Singapore waters. Here are some sperm whale facts.

1. BIGGER THAN A BUS
The sperm whale is the largest of the toothed whales and can grow to 18m, weighing in at over 40 tonnes. It is part of the cetacean species, which includes all species of whales, dolphins and porpoises. They are found in all the world's oceans.

2. AND BRAINY TOO
They have the largest brain out of any animal known to have lived on earth, and block-shaped heads which can measure up to a third of their length.

3. THEY ARE VORACIOUS EATERS.
These endangered whales eat close to one tonne of fish and squid each day, plunging to depths of 1,000m in search of prey. To do so, they can hold their breath for up to 90 minutes.

4. WHAT'S IN A NAME?
The name sperm whale comes from a mysterious substance in the whale's head called spermaceti, that was originally mistaken for sperm by early whalers. Scientists still do not understand what spermaceti does. One theory is that the fluid, which hardens to wax when cold, helps the whale alter its buoyancy so it can dive deep and rise again.

5. MOBY DICK WAS A SPERM WHALE
The famous white whale of Herman Melville's classic novel was named after a real albino sperm whale, 'Mocha Dick', first spotted by sailors in the 19th Century off southern Chile.

Reseachers start dissecting sperm whale carcass found off Jurong Island
Audrey Tan and Chew Hui Min Straits Times 11 Jul 15;

SINGAPORE - Researchers from the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum started dissecting the sperm whale carcass at the Tuas Marine Transfer Station on Saturday morning.

They will try to reach the internal organs and gut by cutting through the outer layers of fat and muscle. Before starting the dissection, the researchers inserted metal tubes into the carcass to release gases that have built up in the abdominal area.

Their work will include taking samples of its muscle tissue, which contains precious genetic information, and studying the contents of its stomach.

The museum’s scientific officer, Mr Foo Maosheng - one of the team members - said: “By studying its stomach contents, we can possibly tell where it has been feeding and at what depths.”


Researchers from the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum started dissecting the sperm whale carcass at the Tuas Marine...
Posted by The Straits Times on Friday, 10 July 2015



Updates from the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum facebook page

Day 2 photos:

We thank all our followers for their support, and we are excited about the excitement with the sperm whale carcass that ended up in Singapore.
Our dedicated museum staff are working hard to prepare the carcass. Safety is of utmost importance, and there is always one staff who is assigned in each session with clean hands to document the event, and to function as the emergency contact personnel.

Day 2: Puncturing the carcass to allow gas to escape, Removing blubber from the whale carcass, Getting into the abdominal cavity.

Day 3 photos:

Day 3: We were working against time and decomposition to retrieve the sperm whale's gut contents for research, while taxidermists peeled blubber off the dead whale's back.

We found pieces of plastic food containers and wrappers in the whale's gut, which serves as a grim reminder to reduce plastic waste and the proper disposal of these items.

Our Outreach and Education Unit colleagues were part of the team today, and will certainly have the experience to share with students and workshop participants in future.

Day 4 photos:

Day 4: The sperm whale is a huge animal, which our conservator, Kate Pocklington, says, "makes me feel very small" as we're working on the carcass.

Very often, we are focused on a tiny part of the animal, but every little bit of work adds up. We have removed most parts of the whale's gut and are working our way towards the head, and learning more about this majestic animal each day.


A page all about the Singapore Whale on the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum website.

Day 5 photos:

Day 5: We have reached the heart and the lower jaw of the sperm whale. These are two important parts of the whale that are vital to their survival.

The heart is roughly the size of an armchair, with huge blood vessels, and muscles that are approximately 8 cm thick at the most muscular region (left ventricle).

The lower jaw, or mandible of the sperm whale is long and narrow, with many cone shaped teeth, each weighing about 1 kg.

We are constantly awestruck by the specimen during dissection, and hope to share more interesting findings tomorrow.
 Day 6 photos:

Day 6: The museum's whale team had a productive day working to expose the spine and skull of the sperm whale.

The 3 m long skull has several tiny teeth and many sockets along the margins where larger teeth from the lower jaws fit into.

Moving from removing large chunks of blubber and organs, we are now making smaller and more delicate cuts to expose the spine.

More work with the head and removing flesh from the skeleton today.

Day 7 photos:

Day 7: It has been a week since we recovered the fallen sperm whale. Our whale team worked every day since, and have made good progress on the removing flesh from the carcass.

The tail fluke, which is does not possess any bones, has been removed. The spine was then separated, and major pieces of blubber removed. The mega-sized head was processed in a mega operation, and we thank Mr Tan from Smitech Engineering for his help, which sped up this operation by days.

What is left for this step is to remove the smaller pieces of flesh on the skeleton before we begin preservation of it next week.

The support we have received till now has been amazing. We thank everyone for their encouragement. Happy holidays to everyone in Singapore!

Day 8 photos:

Day 8: Our whale team spent their Hari Raya holiday cleaning flesh from the whale bones, disarticulating bones and labeling them.

Compared to removing chunks of blubber and muscle, carving away connective tissue requires patience and finesse. This step will enable us to spend less time with skeleton preparation later.

Disarticulating bones, or separating them from their joints, is necessary for preparation of the bones for preservation. During this process, we label the bones to ensure that they do not get mixed up. This will make assembling the skeleton later a smoother process, unlike the scattered pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.

Day 9 photos:

Day 9: We are taking apart bones of the spine and ribs, cleaning them and putting them back together again.

More close up cutting is done elsewhere on the spine, but the relentless sun has cooked and dried up some of the flesh, making cutting increasingly difficult.

The crew takes frequent breaks through out the day to prevent heat exhaustion and to hydrate. The person in-charge of safety for each session keeps time, and announces break time approximately every hour.

As work gets finer, we would bring our followers updates once in two days or when there is progress to be updated from now. Thanks to all for the support!


Day 10 photos:

Day 10: Majority of the skeleton has been de-fleshed.

For the first time, we have put together most parts of the skeleton to check and label them. Progress is good, and we are looking forward to preparing the bones for preservation.

Here's a preview of the partially assembled skeleton, and the folks of Day 10.

The Jubilee Whale Fund is launched! Your support needed for the preparation, mounting, and exhibition of the whale, and for associated education, research, conservation activities.
Contribute to the Jubilee Whale Fund here 

Media articles about the whale:
Here's a storify of the whale, which will be updated as more news and photos come in.

A while back, I did a post about tropical whales and the whale that used to be in the Singapore National Museum.

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