What you should do if you find a dead whale washed ashore

While the public can play an important role in providing information to authorities about animals that have washed ashore, there's no need for them to get on top of the dead animal.

Notifying authorities and taking photos is helpful, climbing on the whale isn't

Large crowds gathered to check out the whale that washed ashore in Harbourville, N.S. (Submitted by Phil Vogler)

While the public can play an important role in helping provide information to authorities about animals that have washed ashore, there's no need for them to get on top of the dead animals.

On the weekend, a dead humpback whale washed ashore on the Bay of Fundy in Harbourville, N.S.

Since then, people have flocked to the site to look at the 13.7-metre whale. Some have even climbed on top of it and had photos taken with the whale.

Andrew Reid, the response co-ordinator for the Marine Animal Response Society, said people should treat live and dead animals with respect.

"I would always advise the public to keep some distance and take a look from a few feet away," he said.

Reid said one of the issues with people getting on top of a dead animal is they could fall off. More importantly, they could cause damage to the animal that might mislead researchers when a necropsy is conducted.

The 13.7-metre whale that washed ashore at Harbourville, N.S., was a young male with no signs of recent entanglement or gashes from ship strikes. (Jenny Osburn/Meagan Osburn)

"Often, we look for signs of human interaction before the whale died that might have led to its death. If people were causing abrasion marks on the carcass when it was on the beach … that could be misinterpreted," he said.

"It wouldn't help with trying to determine the cause of death."

In the case of the Harbourville whale, no necropsy was performed because the rocky shoreline and high tides where the whale was found would make one difficult to carry out.

Why taking photos is so important

Reid said there's a role for the public to notify authorities when marine animals wash ashore, as well as to take photos to share with researchers.

He said photos taken of the Harbourville whale on Sunday by locals showed it was thin, as evidenced by the visibility of its ribs and indents running along the length of the body that should have bulged out.

Andrew Reid, the response co-ordinator with the Marine Animal Response Society, says photos taken by the public can reveal a lot about the whale's health. (CBC)

"Those are signs of a long-term injury or disease that may have been preventing it from feeding, but when we responded Tuesday, decomposition of the carcasses had taken place and that tends to push out those spaces, so it didn't appear as thin as it had on Sunday," said Reid.

He said without the photos, officials may not have realized how thin the whale was.