A rare whale found on a beach in Nova Scotia will eventually be on public display in the New Brunswick Museum.

The Cuvier's beaked whale was found alive, stranded on a beach in New Harbour, N.S., on Feb. 7. It is likely the first recorded discovery of such a whale in the Atlantic region. 

Cuvier's beaked whale

This Cuvier's beaked whale was discovered alive on the beach in New Harbour, N.S., but died shortly after. (E. Zwamborn/MARS, submitted)

Local resident Kevin Cull found the whale and called for help. But, by the time members of the Marine Animal Response Society and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans arrived, about one and a half hours later, the whale had died. 

The Blandford Volunteer Fire Department and DFO secured the animal and prepared to have it transferred to the Atlantic Veterinary College in P.E.I. for a necropsy, to determine a possible cause of death.

"We don't know why it died," said Don McAlpine, curator of zoology at the New Brunswick Museum. 

"It was a juvenile male, in good condition. Its stomach was empty," he said. "There was a little bit of plastic debris, which is unfortunately very common in a stranded whale these days. But otherwise it was in good health."

DFO moving Cuvier's beaked whale

DFO officers attempting to move the beaked whale. (MARS, submitted)

Tonya Wimmer is the president of MARS. 

"We didn't expect it to be a beaked whale, let alone a Cuvier's beaked whale," she said. "We've never had a stranding of this species in Eastern Canada before so it was also an incredible discovery from a scientific perspective as well."

Wimmer said these whales are "normally found hundreds of kilometres out to sea in very deep water and are very elusive, so sightings of live animals in eastern Canadian waters have been very rare."

Rare in northern waters

The Cuvier's beaked whale is a deep water whale, a species that spends its time well off shore in water depths of 1,000 to 2,000 metres. They are a long diving whale, submerged sometimes for an hour or more. They feed on squid and crustaceans.

"They have been sighted only a few times and are much more common in more southerly waters," said Wimmer.

Dr. Pierre-Yves Daoust conducting whale necropsy at the Atlantic Veterinary College

Dr. Pierre-Yves Daoust conducting whale necropsy at the Atlantic Veterinary College. (MARS, submitted)

The skeleton has been cut up and moved to the New Brunswick Museum in Saint John. The bones will now be dried out.

"The tissue is very much like beef jerky on the bone," said McAlpine. "Our domestic bug colony, beetles that eat dried flesh will do a great job for us cleaning the skeleton."  

Afterwards, the bones will need to be degreased. Re-assembling the skeleton will take only a matter of weeks after that. 

Don McAlpine

Don McAlpine is curator of zoology at the New Brunswick Museum.

"That whole process could be done in a year or two," explained McAlpine.

The skeleton will be ready for public display in the marine mammal gallery at the museum.