August 2, 2006

S.Africa Whale Burning Draws Crowds of Spectators

KOMMETJIE BEACH, South Africa -- South African officials set fire to a 34-metric ton whale carcass on Wednesday, sending white smoke into the air near Cape Town as spectators clambered over blubber-strewn rocks for a closer look.

The dead southern right whale washed up onto the quiet Kommetjie beach, 40 km (25 miles) south of the country's top tourist city nearly two weeks ago.

Officials packed tons of wood and poured 80 liters of a petrol and diesel fuel mix over the decomposing 15 meter (47 foot) whale to spark a fire expected to burn for up to two days.

"The first prize would have been to leave it here to decompose but with residents nearby, and the smell," Robin Adams, operations manager for the Table Mountain National Park, told Reuters that wasn't an option.

"The oil and fat seeping back into the sea was also attracting sharks," he said as a strong wind blew smoke away from adjacent homes.

The dead whale was supposed to be burned last week but officials decided to wait for perfect weather and tidal conditions.

The whale has drawn huge crowds of curious onlookers, with young and old climbing over rocks slickened by rotting whale fat and braving a powerful stench to gawk at the giant carcass.

(Reporting by Gordon Bell)