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Vets find ‘suspicious’ black liquid in lungs of whale found dead after oil spill

Parks authority chief vet says not yet clear that liquid was cause of animal’s death or linked to spill; authorities urge staying away from coast from Rosh Hanikra to Zikim

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Vets carrying out a post-mortem on February 21, 2021 on the corpse of the young fin whale washed up onto Nitzanim beach in southern Israel on February 18, 2021. (Assaf Kaplan, Israel Nature and Parks Authority)
Vets carrying out a post-mortem on February 21, 2021 on the corpse of the young fin whale washed up onto Nitzanim beach in southern Israel on February 18, 2021. (Assaf Kaplan, Israel Nature and Parks Authority)

Vets carrying out an autopsy Sunday of the young fin whale washed up on a beach in southern Israel on Thursday found black liquid in the animal’s lungs, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority reported.

Chief INPA vet Roni King said it was too early to connect the liquid either to the whale’s death or to the oil spill that has brought tar contamination to Israeli beaches, from Rosh Hanikra in the north to Ashkelon in the south.

But he said that it “raised suspicions.”

King carried out the autopsy with three vets from the Kimron Veterinary Institute in Beit Dagan in central Israel.

Danny Morick, marine veterinarian, and Aviad Scheinin take samples from a  dead 17-meter fin whale washed up on a beach in Nitzanim Reserve, Feb. 19, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

“The main finding that’s perhaps relevant to the cause of death is a black liquid in [the whale’s] lungs,” King said. “It’s not clear whether this was the cause of death or if it’s connected to the oil. But it raises suspicions. We will continue to investigate it.”

The 17-meter (55-foot) fin whale washed up on the Nitzanim reserve in southern Israel on Thursday, along with other sea creatures.

Dolphins and whales can inhale oil, which can affect lungs, immune function and reproduction.

On Sunday the Interior Ministry, Environmental Protection Ministry and Health Ministry put out a joint statement requesting the public not to go to any beach from Rosh Hanikra in the north to Zikim in the south, for any sports, bathing or recreation purposes.

“Exposure to tar could harm public health,” the advisory read.

The cause of the spill — involving dozens of tons of tar spilled at sea — was not definitively clear and was under investigation.

A woman holds a dead sea turtle covered in tar from an oil spill in the Mediterranean Sea; in Gador nature reserve near Hadera, Israel; Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Parks Authority head Shaul Goldstein on Saturday called it Israel’s “worst environmental disaster in a decade.”

Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel said an oil spill had been identified about 50 kilometers (31 miles) off the coast a week ago, and that one of 10 vessels that were in the area at the time may have been responsible.

From as north as Haifa and down south to Ashkelon near Gaza, black strips could be seen along the Mediterranean coastline. At Gador Nature Reserve near the northern city of Hadera, the tar smeared fish, turtles, and other sea creatures.

Several thousand people came to beaches along the Mediterranean coast to help with the cleanup of the spill but after several injuries, the INPA called on volunteers to go through a registration and safety training process.

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