Whale Graveyard

Many whales are stranded along the New South Wales coast each year, some of which die on the beach. Some carcasses are washed out to sea again, a few are brought straight to the Museum, while others are buried in one of several sites on the New South Wales coast.

Australian Museum team exhuming the skeleton

S Ingleby © Australian Museum

These sites, which were established in the mid 1990s, are like graveyards where carcasses are wrapped in chicken wire, buried and labelled with a sign indicating the species and its reference number. Few of these buried whales have ever been dug up.

In February 2002 a group of staff and volunteers from the Australian Museum, New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service, and the Organisation for the Rescue and Research of Cetaceans in Australia (ORRCA) set about exhuming two whales buried at one such site on the central coast of New South Wales. The specimens had been buried one to two years earlier and most of the flesh had decomposed, leaving relatively clean, complete skeletons.

The specimens dug up were a Gray's Beaked Whale, Mesoplodon grayi, and a Pilot Whale, Globicephala sp. - species which are not well represented in the Museum's collection. The Australian Museum's cetacean collection comprises around 550 specimens from over 40 different species of whales, dolphins and porpoises. These specimens range from a few isolated teeth to the skeleton of a Sperm Whale hanging in the foyer of the Museum. The collection dates back to the late 1800s and is continually growing. Specimens come from a range of sources, the most common being animals found dead on the beach.

The complete skeletons dug up in 2002 were cleaned and entered into the collection where they are now available for research or education purposes. There are 28 other whales buried at this site which could potentially be made available for future research.


Dr Sandy Ingleby , Collection Manager, Mammalogy
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Tags mammalogy, Collection Stories, mammals,