Nova Scotia

Dead pilot whale near East Chezzetcook could be species rarely found in N.S.

A pilot whale that washed ashore in eastern Nova Scotia could be a warm-water loving species that's rarely seen this far north, according to The Marine Animal Response Team.

'So as far as I'm aware we haven't had sightings or strandings of the short-finned variety,' says Andrew Reid

A juvenile whale, believed to be a short-finned pilot whale, was found by a woman walking her dog in the Lower East Chezzetcook area on March 16. (Marine Animal Response Society/Facebook)

A pilot whale that washed ashore in eastern Nova Scotia could be a warm-water-loving species that's rarely seen this far north, according to The Marine Animal Response Team.

Although long-finned pilot whales are common off our coasts, short-finned pilot whales tend to stick to tropical and subtropical areas of the Atlantic Ocean. 

"So as far as I'm aware we haven't had sightings or strandings of the short-finned variety, so it was a bit of a unique stranding," said Andrew Reid, the team's response co-ordinator. 

The Marine Animal Response Society is working with researchers to analyze the whale's genetic makeup to determine if it's a short-finned pilot whale. (Marine Animal Response Society/Facebook)

Reid said researchers who study pilot whales have seen pictures and believe it has the tell-tale pectoral fin that would make it a short-finned pilot whale.

The juvenile whale, which is about 2.7 meters long, was found by a resident of Lower East Chezzetcook on March 16. Reid said it hadn't been dead that long.

"Hard to know if it stranded alive or if it died out at sea and then washed in, but given how fresh the carcass was it was possible that it could have been a live stranding," he said.

Pilot whales travel in groups, so it could have had a long-term sickness or injury that caused it to become separated from its pod, Reid said. 

The Marine Animal Response Team hoped to haul the whale off the beach and do a full necropsy but it was too big, so they've taken parts of the animal to the lab to allow researchers to run genetic tests.

It can be difficult to differentiate between short and long-finned pilot whales when they're swimming together. But once up close, researchers can find differences in the shape of their skulls, number of teeth and colouring. 

"There are chances that you do get long-finned pilot whales that do have shorter fins than usual, and I guess you can get hybrid individuals as well," said Reid. "It's possible that there could be mating between the short-finned and long-finned population, so we do have to get the genetic work done to see where this individual might fall."

Another short-finned sighting?

Reid and his team also received reports in the last week or so of what could be another short-finned pilot whale in Nova Scotia waters. 

That whale was spotted several times near the Dartmouth Yacht Club, but Reid said it hasn't been seen since Monday. 

It's possible the two belonged to the same pod, he said. 

Earlier this week, more than 150 whales, which are believed to be short-finned pilot whales, beached themselves on dry land in western Australia.

By Friday, authorities said only 15 were still alive. 

Reid said if the whales in Nova Scotia turn out to be short-finned pilot whales, they could offer clues as to why different species are travelling further north. 

"We definitely want to do as much as we can to find out why animals might be dying so things that might affect one species can have implications for others, so it's always good to know what is causing mortality in these species and how it's affecting the overall oceans as well," he said. 

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