A team from the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) has arrived on Newfoundland's west coast to take ownership of the two blue whale carcasses that washed onto the beaches in Trout River and Rocky Harbour last month. The towns are both located near Gros Morne National Park.
The researchers will preserve the whales’ skeletons and collect tissue samples from the massive marine mammals.
Blue whales are so rare that scientists believe there are fewer than 250 mature adults in the Northwest Atlantic.
Mark Engstrom, the ROM's senior curator and deputy director of collections and research, said the crew had been on the ground assessing the whale in Trout River.
As of Thursday morning, the carcass was officially towed out of the town and has been brought to Winterhouse Brook, a stretch of land in the Town of Woody Point, not far from Trout River.
"Once we have the carcass and where we're going to work on it, the methodology is pretty much like what you'd see on a whaling ship," Engstrom told CBC News.
"You go ahead and cleanse the whale, so you remove the blubber and the skin ... and then you remove the the skeletal muscle, and the viscera ... and then you're left with the skeleton which you disarticulate and put into a container and drive it away."
The flesh removal is no simple task: blue whales are estimated to weigh between 100 and 150 tons. ROM researchers, while assessing the Trout River carcass, measured the animal at 23.31 metres (76.5 feet) in length.
Once the salvaging of the Trout River whale carcass is complete, Engstrom said they will move on to work on the beached Rocky Harbour whale.
He said if the team works on each carcass all day, each project could be completed in a week.
Engstrom said the group has plenty of assistance.
"We've hired six local people to help us, so the mainstay of the crew will be local people ... and we're working with the communities where the whales are located, and we will also involve any community where we might move them to," he said.
Last weekend, the Trout River council issued a media release regarding the community's support of the Royal Ontario Museum and its plans for removal and salvaging of the carcass. The town's mayor, Paul Matthews was disappointed, however, with how the federal and provincial governments handled the case.
'Once we have the carcass and where we're going to work on it, the methodology is pretty much like what you'd see on a whaling ship.' - Mark Engstrom, senior curator of the ROM
The loss of nine blue whales, which has attracted a huge amount of national and international interest, equates to about five per cent of the endangered species population.
Engstrom estimates the whale skeletons should be ready to be sent to the ROM in about two weeks. The skeleton will first be taken apart, and then the bones will be transported to Ontario on a truck.