SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – After three days of alleged poaching attempts, the carcass of a 30-foot sperm whale was buried on the beach where it washed ashore.
The whale turned up dead on the Isla Vista beach over the weekend and was quickly targeted by people seeking to remove the leviathan's teeth, which are valuable for use in a type of handiwork called scrimshaw.
Sperm whales are an endangered species, and tampering with a dead marine mammal is a violation of federal law.
Before Tuesday's burial, scientists collected skin samples, stomach contents and other material necessary to determine how the whale died.
"We'll clean it off, freeze what needs to be frozen and send other material to the labs," said team leader Michelle Berman, a curator at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History.
County parks director Dan Hernandez said up to 50 people watched as heavy equipment dug a giant hole and rolled the whale in Tuesday afternoon. The burial was on beach property owned by the University of California, Santa Barbara.
"We hit some shale, but that will wedge the whale in there so it won't float up," Hernandez said.
Several people were spotted Sunday and Monday trying to take teeth from the animal. UC Santa Barbara student David Harrison, 20, was cited for public disturbance Sunday by sheriff's deputies after a marine biologist reported that he tried to remove teeth and was belligerent when told it was against the law.
Sperm whales can dive up to 3,000 feet deep, and experts said it's unusual to find them close to the coast. Their teeth can be 8 inches long and can sell for hundreds of dollars on the black market.