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Dozens of adults and children attended an unusual funeral on Friday: the interment of a 12-meter-long, five-ton whale whose body washed up in the Haifa Port on Thursday.

The whale was already dead when first spotted, so the Coast Guard was summoned to tow it ashore. It was then loaded onto a huge truck and brought to the Dor Habonim nature reserve, which has become the official burying ground for young sea mammals, and already contained two whales and a dolphin. According to Dr. Ruth Yahel of the Israel Nature and National Parks Protection Authority, the whale's size indicates it was young: Adult fin whales reach up to 25 meters long and weigh as much as 10 tons.

"This is the second largest creature in the world after the blue whale," she said.

At the nature reserve, a tractor had dug a huge pit, and the whale was lowered into it with a crane gently, so as not to damage its skeleton, which will be used for research purposes once the flesh has decomposed. But before the tractor began covering it with compost to speed the decomposition process, Dr. Dan Kerem of the University of Haifa took a knife to the body and collected a few samples of the whale's flesh. These, too, will be used for research purposes, both to test the quantity of pollutants and poisonous metals in the sea, and to learn more about whales.

"We don't know much," Kerem said, most of the information comes from the developed countries of the western Mediterranean. "In North Africa and our region, we're the only ones who supply this information."

Yahel and Kerem noted that the fin whale is not native to the eastern Mediterranean; its habitat is the sea's western part. However, such whales do periodically stray eastward; over the last decade, six dead fin whales have been found along the eastern Mediterranean coast. According to Kerem, they do not come eastward to seek food, but may do so in search of a mate.

By the time the burial was finished, the sun was setting, and most of the public had left. The scientists, who remained, completed the ceremony by posting a mourning notice: "With great sorrow, we announce the passing of our maritime colleague, the fin whale, who swam from this world prematurely. May his soul find peace."