Rotting whales' stench will make move difficult, experts say

One man's trash may be another man's treasure, but one community leader says the hassle of dealing with rotting blue whales on Newfoundland's west coast is a bigger problem than many realize.

Rocky Harbour, Trout River, Cape St. George all dealing with beached whale carcasses

How rotting whale may cause 'havoc'

9 years ago
Duration 2:01
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One man's trash may be another man's treasure, but a community leader says the hassle of dealing with rotting blue whales on Newfoundland's west coast is a bigger problem than people may realize.

Two blue whale carcasses washed ashore on the coast of Rocky Harbour and Trout River, both located near Gros Morne National Park. A sperm whale carcass also washed ashore in the Cape St. George area.

The animals died after getting caught in severe ice conditions off the island's coast this winter.

Maurice Budgell, chair of the King's Point Heritage Society, which operates the town's Whale Pavilion, said when his community took on the task of getting the flesh off a humpback whale carcass, it was a bigger job than anyone bargained for, and they're not interested in doing it again.

"With all of the problems that we had with the one that we have here now, it would be a monstrous job to take on something else like that," said Budgell.

"The biggest problem for us were just [the] volunteers not in the fishing business — it was the smell of the whale, the smell of the blubber."

Budgell said some of the equipment used to get the flesh off the bones still smell like rotting whale blubber, 10 years after the task was completed.

"They [the communities] better do something with it, I'm tellin' ya, or they're going to have a real big problem on their hands this summer with regards to the smell," he said.

"Not only the smell, but I mean the flies are going to be in the millions around that particular whale this summer. I'm tellin' ya, it's going to be a real environmental problem."

How to solve a problem like a rotting whale?

On Wednesday, federal Fisheries Minister Gail Shea said the Department of Fisheries and Oceans was working on an agreement with a Canadian museum to take ownership of the remains of the beached whales.
Jack Lawson, a fisheries scientist with DFO, says there's hope that a museum may endeavour to take on the project of getting the blubber off at least one blue whale carcass washed ashore in Newfoundland. (CBC)

Shea said DFO officials were on site to deal with environmental impact until the carcasses can be safely removed.

Jack Lawson, a DFO scientist, said there could be some serious challenges, other than the stink, in trying to get to these smaller communities to harvest the bones.

"It would be a fantastic endeavour [to move the whale], you can imagine. You've got 60 or 70 tonnes of flesh that you have to remove from these bones, and then the bones themselves will have to be wrapped in something to stop them from, if you will, tripping and leaking on the highway," he said.

"I can imagine it would be quite a challenge to get the large, heavy equipment you'd need to get down at these animals once you've taken the flesh off."