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AUS: Dead Whale Had A Fractured Jaw

Immediate 21/9/99

It was revealed today that a 4 metre female humpback whale calf found dead on a beach south of Mackay on September 3, 1999, had a broken jaw. The Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service quickly recovered the animal and transported it to Townsville for examination by whale experts from James Cook University and the Museum of Tropical Queensland. Following the post-mortem, the head was removed for more detailed examination, which revealed a fracture of the right lower jawbone. X-rays and tissue samples of the fractured jawbone were examined by veterinary pathologists from DPI's Oonoonba Veterinary Laboratory, who determined that the fracture occurred no more than four days before death.

"Although it is not possible to say for certain, it is very likely that this whale was killed by a collision with a vessel", said Virginia Chadwick, Chairperson of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. "While the collision may not have been due to any fault by the vessel operator, it should have been reported to the authorities immediately and it apparently was not," she said

Collisions between ships and whales are not uncommon, and can be very difficult to avoid. Even large whales can be hard to see, particularly at night or in rough water. Humpback whale numbers in the Great Barrier Reef region have been increasing at a rate of about 12% per year since 1981, and this makes the chance of a collision with a vessel greater, particularly as the number of vessels is also increasing steadily.

"Vessel operators need to keep a sharp eye out for whales and other animals that may be lying in their path", said Ms Chadwick. "Vessel strikes kill whales and turtles, and are also a risk for dugongs."

Humpback whales are listed as vulnerable to extinction under both Commonwealth and Queensland legislation, and are found in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park from May to October. Under Commonwealth law, a person who kills or injures a whale or dolphin, even if accidentally, must notify the Minister for the Environment and Heritage.

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