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(LEAD) Autopsy on 12.6-meter-long whale conducted on Jeju Island

All News 16:05 January 03, 2020

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JEJU, South Korea, Jan. 3 (Yonhap) -- A group of mammal researchers conducted an autopsy on the dead body of a 12.6-meter-long fin whale at a port on South Korea's largest island of Jeju on Friday, the first case in the country of a whale longer than 10 meters being examined to discover the cause of death.

Thirty whale experts from Jeju, Seoul National, Inha, Hanyang and Chungnam National universities and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) took part in the autopsy at Hallim port in the city of Jeju.

The autopsy is also aimed at proving how human life could impact the ecology of the whale species, as well as whether the fin whale was infected with viruses, bacteria or parasites.

A fishing vessel found the female whale, which weighs about 12 tons, in waters 40 kilometers northwest of Biyang Island off Hallim on Dec. 22. Initially, the animal was presumed to be a minke whale but a DNA analysis confirmed it was a fin whale.

Experts believe it is a calf, given than the fin whale, one of endangered large whales, grows up to more than 20 meters in length.

In 2004, the dead body of a 14-meter-long Bryde's whale was found on a beach in Jeju, but the body's decomposition prevented experts from conducting a proper analysis on it. The skeleton of the whale has been on display at the city's Folklore and National History Museum.

In Friday's autopsy, the researchers discovered about 1 meter of fishing line and a fragment of a fishing net about the size of an adult's hand, dimming the possibility the whale's death resulted from eating marine waste.

The autopsy also showed the whale had eaten plankton, making the researchers doubt the animal had starved to death.

The researchers rid the animal of gas by removing its abdominal cavity, blubber and shoulder blades before taking out its organs.

Following the autopsy that ended around noon, its carcass will be incinerated and its skeleton will be transferred to a museum to be made a zoological specimen.

An official from the environmental organization WWF said they plan to investigate blood and organ samples taken from the whale to confirm whether the animal was infected with viruses, bacteria or parasites, adding that it will come up with the exact cause of its death one month later.

Whales generally die from diseases or parasite infections, but recent cases show that they could have starved to death due to climate change, the WWF official said, expressing hope the autopsy will help preserve large whales in the country.

namsh@yna.co.kr
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