Nfld. & Labrador

Did a dead whale wash up in your town? There's a program to tap for that

Getting 40 tonnes of rotting flesh removed from a beach is no easy feat, but Eddie Joyce says towns can call out for a helping hand.

Humber Arm South disposed of dead sperm whale last week at $10K cost

Crews tie straps around a dead sperm whale in Humber Arm South last week, in preparation for moving it into a deep hole dug on the beach. (Glenn Savard)

Getting 40 tonnes of rotting flesh removed from a beach is no easy feat, but Newfoundland and Labrador's environment minister says there's help available for towns unfortunate enough to have a dead whale land on their shores.

A dead sperm whale washed on up the beach washed near the Bay of Islands community of Frenchman's Cove two weeks ago, and sat there for a week before finally being moved by tractors into a deep hole one week later.

Town workers from Humber Arm South and some hired contractors laid this whale to its final resting place — along with a pile of lime to help it decompose. (Submitted photo)

It cost more than $10,000 to move and dispose of the whale. Humber Arm South Mayor Glenn Savard has publicly questioned why there weren't better policies and procedures in place to help guide towns through the unusual process of moving whale carcasses.

Environment Minister Eddie Joyce said there are clear guidelines and funding available from the provincial government, and that Service NL will work with any town to help guide them along the way.

"Actually, there is a procedure in place," he told CBC Radio's Corner Brook Morning Show.

"If it's in the shipping lane it becomes Transport Canada, if it's in federal property, DFO or Parks Canada would be responsible, and if it washes ashore within a municipality it's the responsibility of the municipalities."

This dead blue whale, the largest mammal on earth, washed up in Trout River, on Newfoundland's west coast, in 2014. (CBC)

Funding to remove a dead whale comes from the province's special assistance fund, which Joyce said has been used for every case with which he's been involved. 

Joyce said Savard did express that policies regarding the removal of large, dead mammals do not specifically mention whales, but instead horses and cows.

Unfair for towns to pay? 

While some may see it as unfair that a town has to take on such a big responsibility when a dead whale randomly washes up in its jurisdiction, Joyce said issues of responsibility are something that all three levels of government have to contend with every day.

"If something fell off your truck tomorrow, who should take responsibility?" Joyce said. "Is it the truck owner? Is it the town property? Is it the province?"

This dead right whale was found on the west coast of Newfoundland in August 2017. (Fisheries and Oceans Canada)

According to Joyce, there are people who suggest that towing the whale out to sea would be cheaper and easier than digging a hole and then moving the carcass inside.

However, Joyce said that's too dangerous with people boating and fishing in the area. As well, there is no guarantee that a dead animals will not just float back to shore.

Dead whales are not something any town wants to unexpectedly deal with, but Joyce said despite some newsmaking examples in recent years – including the blue whale whose skeleton was mounted at the Royal Ontario Museum, and another that will be mounted at Memorial University in St. John's – the reality is that having to contend with a dead whale is still a pretty rare occurrence.

"[The province] may get one a year, you may get two a year, if that," he said.

With files from Corner Brook Morning Show

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