Featured Image Credit: cairnstours.net.au
By Emily Persico
While scientists arbitrate over whether we have entered a new geological epoch dubbed the Anthropocene – an epoch in which human actions dictate the future of our planet – a contractor in North Queensland has found a Bryde’s whale buried in a rainforest 10 miles from the ocean.
As strange as this may sound, you might be wondering: What could this possibly have to do with us? Well, like most things in recent history, this has everything to do with us.
“It was immediately apparent that the bones were modern. The contractor then recognized the gelatinous white substance as being rotting whale blubber,” explains Peter Whitehead, a geologist at James Cook University. “It was a WTF moment. The implication was that someone had buried a whale, which was then re-excavated some decades after. What are the odds of that happening?”
Apparently, not too unlikely. The Queensland’s Department of Environment and Heritage Protection had buried the whale “in a location where it would remain undisturbed.” But, as we are quickly learning, nothing goes undisturbed in the age of the Anthropocene.
Just 17 years after the whale washed ashore with a belly packed full of plastic trash, its body was dug up from what was supposed to be its final resting place. Just as the whale was betrayed by the ocean, so too was it betrayed by the forest its body was resting in.
The Anthropocene’s ocean looks quite different from the ocean that marine mammals are adapted. While plastic pollution is ultimately what led to this whale’s death, its life was likely plagued by all sorts of other pollutants—noise and contaminants included. Other whales suffer from declining fish populations, stress from whale watchers, boat strikes, and habitat degradation.
This whale, twice disturbed, has been reburied for what is hopefully the final time. While the whale rests peacefully beneath the earth, we can use its rediscovery as a symbol. The first time the whale was found, the event was spotlighted in an anti-littering campaign. What will we learn from the whale this time?