Commune suffers as whale carcass decays, awaiting glass tomb

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Residents of a commune in Bac Lieu Province are having to wear masks all the time or even move out temporarily as a plan to entomb a whale has made little headway for the last two months.

Bac Lieu, known for its fishing tradition, in February decided to encase the largest-ever whale found in the province in a glass tomb above ground to preserve its skeleton for worship and tourism purposes.

But thus far, the 16-meter long whale weighing 15 tons has only been covered with canvas in an airy room.

Nguyen Thuy Kieu, a resident in Vinh Thinh Commune, Hoa Binh District, said since the whale had been brought to the commune, families in the area have had to suffer the stink of the decaying carcass.

Some people have vomited, and others wear face masks day and night, Kieu said.

Nguyen Van Trung, who lives near the planned tomb, said his wife and children had to move a month ago to the house of his in-laws to avoid the "smell torture."

Trung said the decaying giant carcass has severely polluted the environment, and will affect people's health if the authorities fail to act quickly.

Officials from the provincial departments of Health and Natural Resources and Environment have used chemicals to try and preserve the body, but they have not done enough.

Local residents have contributed more than VND200 million (US$10,466) to build the tomb that has been estimated to cost some VND300 million.

But experts from Nha Trang-based Vietnam Institute of Oceanography during a recent visit to the tomb site said that it will be difficult to preserve the skeleton as the use of chemicals like formaldehyde over time to clear the stink will oxidize the bone.

Until now, the cause of death as well as the age and species of the whale, which was found dead some 26 sea miles off Bac Lieu on February 21, are still unknown.

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