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Dead sperm whale found with jaw hacked off in Thailand

A beached sperm whale found dead on Koh Lanta on Tuesday (July 2) is being examined by experts to determine the cause of its death.

Marine Biological Centre veterinarians as well as experts from Rajamangala University of Technology Srivijaya, Trang, have collected tissue samples of the 12-metre long whale which was thought to have been dead for one or two days when it was found.

The discovery of the whale showed clear signs that someone had cut off its lower jaw, raising alarm bells among experts who have urged people not to start dissecting beached marine animals when found.

Particularly turtles, dolphins and whales as it is important that marine biologists are able to fully examine the animals to determine their cause of death in order to try to prevent future occurrences where possible.

Sperm whales are very difficult to study because they spend most of their time in open water, away from coastlines.

They can dive to more than 900 metres in pursuit of giant squid, their primary prey.

“Recently, there have been a lot of rare marine animals beached on Thailand’s shores such as sea turtles, a Bryde’s whale and now a sperm whale which is very rare to see,” said Jatuporn Burusphat, Director-General of the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources.

Dr Kongkiat Kittiwattanawong, Director of the Phuket Marine Biological Centre (PBMC) raised concerns about the discovery, writing, “Found a sperm whale stranded aground.

The tip of its lower jaw was cut off by someone. The action is illegal because the species is legally recognised as a reserved wild animal.

Sperm whales live deep in the Andaman Sea. In the past 30 years, 21 sperm whales have been found stranded on Thai beaches.

The last case was on May 30, 2017, when one was found on Surin beach, Phuket, about 12.4 metres long.

“Approximately 40% of their body length consists of the head which contains a semi-liquid, waxy substance originally mistakenly identified as the whales’ semen, hence the name,” Dr Kongkiat wrote.

“Sperm whales have 25-30 pairs of teeth only in their lower jaw which fit into sockets in the upper jaw. They have been hunted by humans for a long time. Their teeth have been used to make accessories, the oil in their head has been used in various industries, and the meat used for food. Additionally, their excrement is an amber-liked solid which has been used to produce perfume. This all makes them very valuable to hunters,” Dr Kongkiat added.