Rescue group says time running out for necropsy of whale found in Halifax harbour

·2 min read
A Marine Animal Response Society member collects underwater footage of the humpback whale in Halifax harbour. (Marine Animal Response Society - image credit)
A Marine Animal Response Society member collects underwater footage of the humpback whale in Halifax harbour. (Marine Animal Response Society - image credit)

A dead humpback whale is now beached on Lawlor Island near Eastern Passage, N.S., but the window of opportunity to conduct a necropsy is shrinking fast.

The whale was found floating near the mouth of Halifax harbour late last week, and the Marine Animal Response Society was struggling to find a way to bring it ashore to begin a necropsy.

Despite the body now being ashore, the group's executive director said Lawlor Island is not a "workable" option, because it's rocky and covered in seaweed, which is not safe for the people who would be trying to determine how the massive animal died.

"Because an animal of this size, it really does take having excavators or other heavy equipment to help us sort of manipulate it and pull it apart, unfortunately," said Tonya Wimmer.

"Halifax doesn't have too many beaches or areas that are accessible in that way."

A smaller animal could be taken to a facility for a necropsy, but an animal this size needs to be outside.

Paul Palmeter/CBC
Paul Palmeter/CBC

The humpback whale is ten metres long and weighs 20 to 30 tonnes.

The ideal time to do a necropsy is when the body is fresh. Wimmer said given the warm, sunny weather in Halifax recently, the whale's body will soon be too deteriorated.

"It really does seem the window is probably closed for us being able to investigate this animal, which is a shame ... Unless something changes in the next day or so," she said.

A full necropsy is the most thorough way to determine cause of death, although there may be signs on the outside of the body that offer insight.

"We unfortunately get quite a few humpbacks in the run of a year. And it could be anything from being entangled in fishing gear, which we didn't see on this animal, to being hit by a vessel, to eating plastics," Wimmer said.

Marine Animal Response Society
Marine Animal Response Society

It's possible the animal died of natural causes, but Wimmer said it's particularly important to find out what happened if the death was related to human activity — so they can work to prevent it from happening again.

MARS has been in touch with the Department of Oceans and Fisheries, and is waiting to hear whether the body can be moved somewhere else, although Wimmer said there are few options. Otherwise, it may be left there to decompose, or towed and disposed of.

While the body remains beached on Lawlor Island, Wimmer said it's important people stay away and do not touch it, as it can carry diseases.

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