14 minke whale deaths in Maritimes this year surpasses annual average
Marine Animal Response Society trying to determine 'if there's something bigger going on here'
The Marine Animal Response Society is keeping a close eye on the minke whale population in the Maritimes after at least 14 of them have been observed dead at sea or washed ashore since February.
On Thursday, a dead minke was discovered on Inkerman Beach in northern New Brunswick, but it's not yet clear if it's a new case, or one that was previously reported, said executive director Tonya Wimmer.
Normally, the region sees between five and 10 minke whale deaths per year, she said.
"So it's a little bit higher than our normal sort of average, but you know, we're only partway through the year, so I think that's part of the concern."
- Dead whale discovered on the Acadian Peninsula 'likely' a minke
- 3 dead minke whales spotted off northern New Brunswick
- U.S. launches investigation into 28 minke whale deaths along East coast
The Marine Animal Response Society has also had reports of two live whales being either entangled or entrapped, said Wimmer.
"So what we're aiming to do is just keep working with our partners and look at as many of these as possible to try to figure out if there's something bigger going on here — if there is a larger concern that we should be having."
Unlike the endangered North Atlantic right whales, minkes are not a species at risk in Canada.
The Canadian East Coast population of minkes, which encompasses the eastern coast of the United States, is about 2,600, according to the most recent estimate by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
But in January, NOAA declared the deaths of 28 minke whales along America's east coast during the previous year an "unusual mortality event" — more than double the annual average.
NOAA launched an investigation and of the carcasses examined to date, human interaction was suspected or confirmed in several cases.
"It is important that we understand the health of all our marine animal populations and ensure they are not being harmed by our activities," said Wimmer.
She doubts a necropsy can be performed to determine the cause of death of the minke found on Inkerman Beach, given the level of decomposition and how difficult the area is to access.
She hopes a team will be able to examine the carcass and collect some samples though within the next couple of days.
Being able to examine a carcass as soon as possible following death is crucial, said Wimmer. Once a whale starts to decompose, signs of what happened to them deteriorate quickly, both in terms of external scars and the quality of the tissues and internal organs.
Members of the public can help the charitable organization dedicated to marine animal conservation, she said. Anyone who comes across a dead whale or whale in distress on the water or a beach is urged to call the MARS hotline 1-866-567-6277.