Whale of a find in Singapore

Rare sight of whale's carcass has caused a stir among residents and researchers here

An adult female sperm whale, 10.6m long and weighing between 8 and 10 tonnes, was found in Singapore waters for the first time.

Sperm whales are the largest toothed whales and largest carnivorous animals on earth. Adult males can grow longer than 20m and weigh over 50 tonnes. The species is regarded by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as vulnerable to extinction.

The mammal was found floating off Jurong Island last Friday. Mr Jailani Salleh, a worker in the oil industry, posted a video of his sighting on Facebook group Nostalgic Singapore on Friday morning. 

On Monday, the fourth day after the sperm whale's carcass was found, part of the skeleton can be seen.
On Monday, the fourth day after the sperm whale's carcass was found, part of the skeleton can be seen. PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES


An MPA diver preparing to go into the water last Friday afternoon to tie a rope around the whale’s body before it is secured to the buoy tender vessel Panduan and towed across the West Johor Strait to Tuas Marine Transfer Station. PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Museum conservator Kate Pocklington (left), 28, and mammals and birds curator Marcus Chua, 31, removing blubber from the carcass last Saturday.
Museum conservator Kate Pocklington (left), 28, and mammals and birds curator Marcus Chua, 31, removing blubber from the carcass last Saturday. PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Scientific officer Letchumi Mani, 25, shows the inside of part of the whale's stomach. Squid beaks, which cannot be digested, are found in the stomach.
Scientific officer Letchumi Mani, 25, shows the inside of part of the whale's stomach. Squid beaks, which cannot be digested, were found in the stomach. PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Plastic takes a long time to disintegratte and is often injested by marine animals.
Squid beaks, which cannot be digested, are found in the stomach. Sperm whales feed primarily on squids. Plastic trash were also found in the stomach. PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Museum conservator Kate Pocklington (left), 28, and mammals and birds curator Marcus Chua, 31, removing blubber from the carcass last Saturday. (Clockwise from far left) Scientific officer Letchumi Mani, 25, shows the inside of part of the whale's st
Plastic takes a long time to disintegrate and is often injested by marine animals. PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES


The insides of the dead sperm whale displayed on a canvas sheet at Tuas Marine Transfer Station on July 12. (From left) Upper and lower stomach, marine plastic trash, squid beaks and intestines. PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES


Lenses of fish or squid found in the gut of the dead sperm whale. PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES


Ms Kate Pocklington, 28, a conservator, working on a bone from the dead sperm whale on July 13. PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES


Staff of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum removing a layer of fat from the sperm whale carcass on July 11. PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES


The 10.6m sperm whale which was found dead floating off Jurong Island on July 11. PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

 
 
 

Singapore got its first and only complete large whale carcass in 1892. The 13m-long baleen whale was found beached in southern Malacca that year and its skeleton was subsequently displayed in the old National Museum from 1907 to 1974.

It was then presented as a gift to Malaysia's Muzium Negara and is now housed in the Maritime Museum on Labuan, off Sabah.

So the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum was very keen to recover the recent find for its collection.

The carcass had a huge gash on its posterior half. After museum staff inspected it, divers from the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore secured it with ropes to the buoy tender vessel Panduan, which had to move slowly across the West Johor Strait to prevent disintegration of the specimen in the rough waters.

When the carcass reached the Tuas Marine Transfer Station at about 9pm, the museum's mammals and birds curator, Mr Marcus Chua, and scientific officer Foo Maosheng, started work on collecting tissue samples while it was still "fresh" .

Over the next few weeks, museum staff will collect tissues, examine gut contents and recover the skeleton for research and educational purposes. The skeleton of the "Singapore Whale" will eventually go on show at the museum.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 16, 2015, with the headline 'Whale of a find in S'pore'. Print Edition | Subscribe