Saturday, September 10, 2011

{Press} DNR to use site off Brunswick's waterfront for whale necropsies

Jacksonville.com | Mike Morrison | September 9, 2011

"BRUNSWICK - A sandy beach across the East River from downtown will be the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ staging area for whale necropsies.

With the northern right whale migration nearing to winter calving waters off South Georgia and North Florida, it’s important to have a site designated for safety as well as scientific reasons, DNR wildlife biologist Clay George said Wednesday night.

George, from the Wildlife Resources Division office off the Brunswick River, asked the City Commission for permission to use a city-owned causeway to access the site on Andrews Island. The island itself is controlled by the Georgia Department of Transportation and is used as a dump site for dredge spoil.

The commission tentatively agreed, subject to the implementation of a memorandum of understanding between the two parties and other involved agencies and individuals.

“Northern right whales are one of the most endangered animals in the world,” George said. “They migrate in our coastal waters to their calving grounds. Every three or four years, one is found floating offshore.”

If left floating, the whale carcasses can be a hazard to navigation or wash up on a beach, he said.

Fewer than 400 of the endangered mammals are left in the North Atlantic.

They are massive creatures, reaching 55 feet and weighing as much as 115 tons. Slow and full of blubber, whalers hunted them to near-extinction more than a century ago. Now, they are subject to killing strikes from the large ships that ply the East Coast.

Should one be found dead off Brunswick, the carcass would be towed inshore, passing under the Sidney Lanier Bridge on its way to the sandy area across from Mary Ross Park in downtown Brunswick.

The DNR would deliver heavy equipment across the causeway to the site, which would be used to haul the carcass out of the water for dissection and examination to determine the cause of death, George said.

After conducting an extensive survey of the area, the DNR identified Andrews Island as the only appropriate site.

The process of examining and disposing of a whale carcass would span three days, George said. On the first day, the whale would be towed to the site to site. On the second day, it would be hauled out of the water and examined before being buried on the island. On the third day, the site would be cleaned up and the heavy equipment removed.

“Within a week, there would be no signs of the operation remaining,” George said.

The operation and cleanup would be paid for by the DNR, George said.

The commission agreed to the request without discussion, except to verify the extent of the city’s involvement.

Commissioner Cornell Harvey wanted and received assurances the city’s only involvement would be in providing access to the causeway to Andrews Island."

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