The mayor of Trout River, the western Newfoundland community where a decomposing blue whale attracted international attention, says he's disappointed with how the federal and provincial governments handled the case.
The whale washed ashore in Trout River about two weeks ago. The carcass of another blue whale washed ashore in nearby Rocky Harbour, another town that is an enclave within Gros Morne National Park.
The Royal Ontario Museum will become home to the skeletons of the blue whales, which are so rare that scientists believe there are fewer than 250 mature adults in the Northwest Atlantic. The whales are among those believed to have perished weeks ago when they were crushed by heavy ice off Newfoundland's west coast.
Trout River Mayor Paul Matthews said ever since the whale landed on his town's shoreline, it's been a struggle to find a way to deal with it.
Matthews said while the community supports the recent announcement that the Royal Ontario Museum would be carrying out the removal and salvaging of the carcass, there was definitely more that government could have done to answer residents' questions.
"We were not provided with any direction, either provincially or federally," said Matthews.
He said the town was notified that the responsibility fell on them, but they had to get permission from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans before making any moves with the carcass.
"We initially contacted the provincial departments that are related to this and tried to work with them in terms of how to best deal with the situation of the whale itself — the presence of the decomposing carcass," he said.
"From that point on, the response was basically that it was our problem, they had no interest or responsibility in the matter and it was a municipal responsibility to deal with it as we saw best."
Matthews said the town was trying to deal with the problem when an announcement came from Fisheries Minister Gail Shea that she was in talks with a then-unnamed Canadian museum to take ownership of the whale.
"They [DFO] did not provide assistance — or positive response, for that matter — up until the point that the initial announcement was made concerning their attempts to partner with the Royal Ontario Museum," he said.
"Following that, the DFO sent fisheries officers on-site and, from my understanding, their primary role in that is to just protect the carcass itself from any tampering or any safety issues with it."
In a weekend media release, Matthews said the ownership of the whale by the ROM was likely the best option, but the "remarkable lack of support" from government until that point didn't help matters.
The release said department in both government branches missed an opportunity to make the whale a display that would enhance Trout River and the surrounding area as an eco-tourism destination.