Nfld. & Labrador

'Natural mortality': No way to save whale trapped in Cook's Cove ice

A whale trapped for almost three days in thick ice in Old Perlican died overnight Sunday, and a whale rescuer says there was absolutely nothing they could do to save it.

Whale Release and Strandings Group says death of whale inevitable

A humpback whale stuck in ice near Old Perlican over the weekend has died. (T.J. Legge)

In its third night, the vigil for a humpback whale trapped in thick Arctic pack ice in Cook's Cove, Old Perlican ended with the whale's death overnight Sunday. 

An inevitable death, according to Wayne Ledwell of Whale Release and Strandings Group.

"I mean pack ice is natural mortality ... for whales, which is the same as a killer whale going out and killing a whale, that's natural mortality. That's how serious pack ice is," he said. 

People flocked to the shore of the shallow, ice-filled harbour all weekend checking on the whale — and sharing photos and videos through social media that attracted plenty of concern for its well-being.

"When large whales go strand on shore, which is what that whale was doing aside from being caught on the ice, they're pretty much doomed," said Ledwell. 

'A whale is not like a dog'

"It's the worst possible place where an animal could come into," Ledwell said Monday.

He and his crew were in Cook's Cove over the weekend, but there was nothing they could do to free the whale from the cove on Newfoundland's Avalon Peninsula. 

"An icebreaker wouldn't be able to get near the entrance to that cove because it's such shallow water in there," and even if it did, Ledwell said, it would force more ice against the whale. Plus, the cleared area behind it would fill in with ice again very quickly. 

"A whale is not like a dog, you can't just say, 'come on' and it'll follow you."

Mary Lou Riggs says the whale was bleeding a lot by Sunday morning, (Submitted)

Ledwell said despite the suggestion from many people to simply euthanize the whale to put it out of its misery, that was not a viable option either. 

Plus there's never been a successful euthanasia of whales at sea except for the whaling ships that harpoon them- Wayne Ledwell

"It's pretty messy business," he said.

"To euthanize an animal that size you would need buckets of toxic barbiturates."

That would harm other animal life, and would require a way to inject the drugs into the animal that simply did not exist because of the dangerous location of the whale. 

"Plus there's never been a successful euthanasia of whales at sea except for the whaling ships that harpoon them," said Ledwell. 

Hundreds of whales of every species have died in pack ice around Newfoundland, said Ledwell. 

"It's the only place this happens," he said.  "This isn't pond ice."

"This is thick ice moving enough that anything that's in its path it's going to kill, boats included, because it's so heavy," said Ledwell. 

"Only thing that can survive on it are seals, because they can climb up on top of it, because they're designed for it. People don't understand that."

Ledwell said the whale's carcass may get swept out to sea when the ice breaks up, or it will be removed


Meghan McCabe is a former journalist who worked with CBC News in St. John's.