2017-05-17

Blue Whale carcass necropsied, removed from East Berlin beach

by Brittany Wentzell

  • <p>BRITTANY WENTZELL PHOTO</p><p>Crews from various universities, museums, as well as the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Marine Animal Response Society, performed a necropsy on a dead whale that washed up in East Berlin. The whale was spotted around May 2 in East Berlin and the necropsy performed over May 12 and 13.</p>
  • <p>BRITTANY WENTZELL PHOTO</p><p>Students and researchers carve off pieces of blubber during the necropsy.</p>

The sight of a young Blue Whale carcass was incredible and gruesome as around 30 people worked meticulously to strip it down and find out what led to its untimely demise.

A Blue Whale that had been floating off the coast of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland weeks was spotted washed up in the small Queens County community of East Berlin on May 2.

After determining the site too remote for the heavy equipment required to do a necropsy, Marine Animal Response Society (MARS) and Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) had to tow the whale to a nearby beach on East Berlin Road.

On May 12, around 30 people from many organizations including MARS, DFO, the New Brunswick Museum, the Atlantic Veterinary College, and Dalhouise University, converged on the animal, dissecting it and carting off parts of its body for sceintific research and documentation.

Andrew Reid, response co-ordinator with MARS, says the whale has likely been dead for at least two months.

Reid says they had hoped to get some organ tissue but due to the length of time the whale was dead, there was very little left.

"We can still look for signs of blunt force trauma, broken bones," he said. "Despite how decomposed it is, it's still important we look at it, especially with Species At Risk like this."

A veterinary pathologist was present and they will determine the cause of death but there was nothing conclusive by May 12.

An excavator was required to haul the pieces of skin and blubber that were cut in slabs from the whale. By around 1:30 p.m. parts of the whale's vertebrae were visible.

Parts of the whale were going to various places, not just for analysis but also for preservation and display.

The whale's skeleton is being sent to the Truro Agricultural College who will attempt to clean it up. The hope is to have the skeleton on display at Dalhousie University, but whale skeletons are notoriously difficult to clean.

Whale bodies contain so much oil, even their skeletons can drip oil for years. A Blue Whale skeleton hanging in the New Bedford Whaling Museum in Massachussetts is still dripping oil after nearly 20 years. That whale was struck by a tanker off the coast of Nova Scotia before making its way to the museum.

Reid says the group is going to try a new method using compost, a method that has been employed a few times in Canada and involves burying the bones for months at a time in manure or compost.

Crews went out on May 13 as well with the hope to have the whale remains all cleaned from the beach in East Berlin.

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