Rarely-seen beaked whale washes up near Ahousaht

A dead whale — believed to be a deep-diving Cuvier's beaked whale — has washed up near Ahousaht, B.C.

A dead whale — believed to be a deep-diving Cuvier's beaked whale — has washed up near Ahousat, B.C.

A rare beaked whale has washed up on the beach in Ahousaht, B.C., on the west coast of Vancouver Island. (Marcie Callewaert)

A dead whale that appears to be a rare Cuvier's beaked whale has washed up on a beach near Ahousaht, B.C., on Vancouver Island's west coast. 

The decomposing whale was spotted by a hiker on the Wild Side trail, who thought it might have been a killer whale.

A dead whale, believed to be a Cuvier's beaked whale, has washed up on a beach near Ahousaht, B.C. (Marcie Callewaert)

Marcie Callewaert, a photographer and Grade 6 teacher who reported the whale to Fisheries and Oceans Canada, took a boat to get a closer look and was relieved the hiker was wrong.

"I was really concerned considering all the recent strandings and the status of our orca population around here. So I was really happy it wasn't an orca," said Callewaert.

No officials have visited the remote location, but Callewaert said it appears to be a Cuvier's beaked whale.

"It's just so exciting to see one in person, although it's tragic that it's dead ... just the opportunity to see it in person, I know I won't get that chance again," she said.

Rarely seen, deep-diving whale

Cuvier's beaked whales are found around the world, but seldom spotted in B.C. waters as they spend most of their time far from shore and are famously deep divers.

They hold the record for the longest, deepest dives ever recorded by a marine mammal, swimming to a depth of nearly 3 km and staying underwater more than two hours.

At least ten strandings of Cuvier's beaked whales have been recorded in B.C., according to a DFO booklet from 1999.

Callewaert gathered a tissue sample for DFO, at the department's request, so officials can confirm the species, said a fisheries spokesperson. The whale has decayed too much to perform a necropsy.

It's not clear how the whale died, though Callewaert wonders whether a pattern of cuts on the body indicate a propeller strike.

Elders from the Ahousaht First Nation plan to bless the animal, she said. The whale carcass will likely be left to decay on the beach.

"It would be quite an ordeal to go get it out because of the location," said Callewaert.

"The eagles are feasting on it. I'm sure the wolves are in there at night and in the morning as well. So let nature take its course."