Video: Bigger diggers needed as Portstewart sei whale carcass heads for landfill
Moving the carcass of a huge whale that washed up on Portstewart Strand proved tricky last night.
Hundreds of fascinated locals flocked to the popular north coast beach to see the whale that was swept into shore by the waves yesterday.
By high tide at 2pm it was floating in the surf on a sand bar just off the Blue Flag beach close to the Barmouth, at the centre of a flock of scavenging gulls.
Last night the National Trust, which manages the beach, tried to load the massive carcass onto a trailer - but it wasn't a simple operation.
Joe Breen, senior scientific officer at the Department of the Environment's marine division, said the sheer scale of the beast made its removal a problem.
"We tried to get it on to a trailer with two diggers. But it's around 43ft long and weighs 15 to 20 tonnes," he said after the first failed attempt. "We needed a bigger digger. We were able to get a 40ft rig from a company working on a road dualling scheme, but it took all three diggers to lift the whale onto a low loader."
The whale was finally loaded onto the trailer at around 10pm.
At first, experts thought it was a minke whale - the most common of the baleen whales to be found in our waters.
But last night, Mr Breen revealed it was an adult female sei whale.
There were no obvious marks to suggest a cause of death. The carcass is now likely to end up as landfill, possibly after rendering.
The carcass was swept onto rocks below Dominican College on Sunday and then floated back out to sea, only to wash in further along the coast yesterday.
Peter Lynas, spotted it from his house near the strand at 8.30am yesterday.
"I could see a strange floating object. I thought it was possibly an overturned boat and a red buoy. In fact it was a whale and the red buoy was its tongue," he said yesterday afternoon.
"It was about a mile out to sea and I could see that it was heading towards the beach. The girls didn't want to see it in the morning but there is quite a crowd forming now and they want to go back down."
Tracy Platt, scientific officer with regional operations, Northern Ireland Environment Agency, said staff were hoping to examine it, and possibly take samples that can be used by universities trying to build up a DNA profile of whales in the north Atlantic.
"We don't want members of the public getting too close to the carcass and taking samples themselves. They do carry various diseases and you do need to be careful around carcasses," she warned.
"It's quite a sizeable animal," Tracy added.
"The large, red-orange protrusion is actually its tongue. Quite often when we come across whale carcasses the tongue has swollen and the gases inside have pushed it out. It can come very far out from the body."
While seagulls have been landing on the body, they don't appear to be doing much damage, she said.
"It would take something quite big to get through the tough skin."
It will be a massive job to deal with the remains, which will probably be incorporated into a landfill system, Tracy said.