Nova Scotia

Cause of death of humpback whale in Harbourville likely won't be known

It's unlikely the cause of death will be determined in the case of a whale that washed ashore on the Bay of Fundy near Harbourville, N.S.

Necropsy won't be performed due to logistical reasons

The whale was a young male with no signs of recent entanglement or gashes from ship strikes. (Jenny Osburn/Meagan Osburn)

It's unlikely the cause of death will be determined in the case of a whale that washed ashore on the Bay of Fundy near Harbourville, N.S., because a necropsy won't be performed.

The Marine Animal Response Society received word on Sunday that a 13.7-metre humpback whale had washed ashore.

"Really, the best chance of determining the cause of death is doing a full necropsy," said Andrew Reid, the society's response co-ordinator.

He said necropsies are logistically and financially demanding, and the society does not have the resources to conduct one on its own.

"From our point of view, it does need to be shared between the non-government side, the academic side and government," said Reid. "That would be required to do a necropsy on this animal … and it doesn't appear that will be done."

Why a necropsy isn't happening

In a statement, Department of Fisheries and Oceans spokesperson Debbie Buott-Matheson said the reasons for not carrying out a necropsy are logistical in nature.

"The location of the carcass and the tides provide logistical challenges that would make the necropsy very difficult to perform successfully," she wrote.

Reid agrees the site isn't optimal for conducting a necropsy.

"The location itself for a necropsy wouldn't be suitable. It's on a rocky beach and it would be difficult getting heavy equipment down there and wouldn't be that safe," he said.

Reid said the whale is likely a young adult male, but noted there were no signs of recent entanglements or gashes from ship strikes.

"It did appear quite thin, so it may have been suffering from a long-term sickness or injury that would have been preventing it from feeding properly," said Reid. "It probably wasn't an acute death."

Similarly, there will be no necropsy performed on a 19-metre female fin whale found washed up on a Cape Breton beach on Sunday. 

DFO said in a statement that staff collected samples of skin, blubber and baleen this week. Those samples, along with photos of the carcass, will be sent to a lab in Quebec for analysis.

Alex MacLeod's dog, Bear, found this whale carcass on Sunday on a beach in Richmond County, Cape Breton. (Alex MacLeod)

According to DFO, fin whales in the Atlantic are a species of special concern under the Species at Risk Act.

The fin whale is the second largest whale in the world, after the blue whale, and ranges in size from 20 to 27 metres, weighing 60 to 80 tonnes.

DFO estimates there are between 5,000 and 11,000 individuals in the North Atlantic. 

With files from the Canadian Press