GOVERNMENT officials will decide soon if three south-west men who interfered with a dead whale at Warrnambool should be prosecuted.
Case briefs are being prepared by regional Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) officers to be submitted to department chiefs who will rule if charges or warnings should be issued. Penalty scales range from a few thousand dollars to $32,000.
Five people were interviewed after The Standard and other media outlets last week published a controversial Facebook photograph showing several young men standing on and touching a humpback whale carcass near Shelly Beach. Regional DSE senior wildlife officer Jim O’Brien said yesterday a decision was likely in about four weeks.
“We’ve completed our investigations in which we spoke to five people, who were all co-operative, and are putting together briefs on three of them,” he said. “This sort of interference is not a common occurrence in Victoria.
“Usually three or four whales a year are washed up on the coast, but usually not within easily accessible distance to a population centre.”
Environment Minister Ryan Smith said there were no plans to review the penalties in the Wildlife Act.
DSE staff are continuing to monitor the decaying 40-tonne sub-adult whale on a rock ledge west of Thunder Point and expect another influx of sightseers today and tomorrow.
Last weekend more than 2000 people trekked to Shelly Beach to view the carcass from a nearby clifftop, approved by the department as a viewing area.
“We’ve had to put on another staff member at the Warrnambool office to handle the extra workload from this,” Mr O’Brien said.
DSE senior biodiversity officer Mandy Watson said there had been lots of whales off the south-west this season but no calves born. Without calves, whales were unlikely to stay around Logans Beach, Warrnambool she said.