SYDNEY, New South Wales (AFP) – A rare southern right whale covered in what appear to be shark bites has washed up on an Australian beach, exciting scientists who Thursday said it will help boost knowledge of the species.
The carcass, estimated at 12 metres (39 feet) long and weighing up to 50 tonnes, came ashore on the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia, an area known for great white sharks.
"There are huge shark bites taken out of it," the South Australian Museum's curator and senior mammal researcher Catherine Kemper told AFP.
"The question is, did it die first and then the shark had a meal, or did it die from the shark bites?"
The museum will send a team out to the whale on Friday, dissecting it on the beach in an operation that could take a week before shipping it back to the museum for further valuable scientific research.
"In my time at the museum, and that is 30 years, we have only ever had two adult-sized southern right whales," said Kemper, the last one being in 2001.
"It's a rare occurrence and we are very keen to get hold of it. The museum currently has the only full skeleton of an adult in Australia and every animal we get adds to the story of the biology of the species."
Southern right whale numbers were devastated during whale hunts off Australia during the 19th century but have gradually recovered with around 10,000 believed to be spread across the southern hemisphere.
They rarely come ashore and Kemper said scientists were "very limited in our knowledge about their anatomy, diseases and their reproductive cycle".
The species can grow up to 18 metres in length and weigh up to 80 tonnes. They have an enormous head, occupying up to one-quarter of their total body length, are slow swimmers and of docile temperament.
They are classified as endangered in Australia.