Montreal

Wandering humpback whale likely killed in ship collision, says necropsy team

The preliminary results of a necropsy on the whale, whose body was found floating downstream from Montreal Tuesday, show signs of acute trauma, said Université de Montréal veterinary Prof. Stéphane Lair.

Dead whale shows signs of acute trauma, says veterinary professor

The lifeless body of young humpback whale was found drifting in the St. Lawrence River, near the Verchères archipelago, early Tuesday. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Preliminary results of a necropsy show a boat strike likely killed the humpback whale whose body was found drifting down the St. Lawrence River near Varennes, Que., early Tuesday, say veterinarians who are examining the carcass where it was hoisted from the water, in Sainte-Anne-de-Sorel.

The whale, vigorous when she was first spotted near the Jacques Cartier Bridge on May 30, drew hundreds of people to the Old Port to catch a glimpse of the rare sight. The whale was last spotted alive Sunday near Pointe-aux-Trembles, at the northeastern end of the island of Montreal and was then seen, lifeless, near Île-Beauregard, six nautical miles away.

Université de Montréal Prof. Stéphane Lair, a veterinary pathologist leading the team conducting the necropsy, said the whale had suffered trauma under its skin and in its muscles. The accumulation of blood in the whale also suggests that a collision fatally wounded the animal, said Lair. 

Lair confirmed the young humpback was a female, between two and three years of age.

He said his team will analyze samples from the necropsy in the lab before confirming the cause of death in a month or two.

If indeed a boat did strike and kill the whale, Laird said, the vessel would have had to have been very large.

WATCH: Veterinarian on what he found in whale necropsy:

The team led by Université de Montréal veterinary Prof. Stéphane Lair says early findings from the necropsy suggest the humpback whale was struck by a boat. Lair says a final diagnosis could take as long as two months. 0:30

"If they hit the whale during the night, there's a good chance they might not have noticed it," Lair said. 

The whale had some skin damage from the time it had spent in fresh water, Lair said, but it otherwise looked to be in good health.

Humpback whales can survive a journey through fresh water for at least three weeks and return safely to the ocean, said Robert Michaud, the co-ordinator of the Quebec Marine Mammal Emergency Response Network.

"We thought this animal could make it," said Michaud, who is also the founder and scientific director of the Group for Research and Education on Marine Mammals, based in Tadoussac, Que.

Lair said he can't yet confirm if the whale had been eating but said it is possible the whale, at least in the early part of her journey from salt water upstream to Montreal, could have been chasing schools of fish.

Michaud and his network had hoped they could help the whale return safely to her natural habitat, keeping close tabs on her until they lost track of the whale Sunday morning, he said.

A crew from the University of Montreal veterinarian school performs a necropsy on the whale in Sainte-Anne-de-Sorel, Que. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

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