Nova Scotia

Distillery aims to preserve skeleton of minke whale found in Digby

CövenHöven Distillery of Sandy Cove, N.S., wants to display bones for educational purposes. The whale was found dead at a Digby wharf May 25 and a necropsy is underway.

CövenHöven Distillery of Sandy Cove, N.S., wants to display bones for educational purposes

The carcass of a minke whale drifted into Digby Wharf with the tide May 25. (Submitted by Christopher Thibodeau)

A Sandy Cove, N.S., distillery hopes to display the skeletal remains of a minke whale found under the government wharf in Digby on May 25.

Christopher Thibodeau, director and acting president of CövenHöven Distillery, said he happened to be in town the day the whale was found.

"It was at the wharf, in whole underneath the wharf," Thibodeau said. "The wharf didn't really know what to do with it."

He said he went to the wharf office and asked if he could play a role in moving the whale to a place where its cause of death could be investigated. He also asked if he could keep the skeleton.

Annapolis Basin Charter Tours lent a hand getting the whale to a pickup location. (Submitted by Christopher Thibodeau)

Thibodeau said he's always been interested in whales. He grew up on Digby Neck and has held whale-watching jobs.

"We've been interested in having an opportunity to have a skeletal structure on display for quite some time," he said.

The Marine Animal Response Society (MARS) was called in to help, Thibodeau said.

Tyler Handspiker of Versatile Excavation took the minke whale to Sandy Cove. (Submitted by Christopher Thibodeau)

"The ball started rolling very quickly after that, and of course time is of the essence when you're dealing with something [such] as [a] carcass," he said.

Friends and neighbours pitched in to get the whale from Digby to Thibodeau's property in Sandy Cove on Monday.

Group effort

MARS got to Sandy Cove quickly and began studying the remains right away. Unlike other times when whales have washed up on the shores of Digby Neck, the bones of this minke whale were intact.

Andrew Reid, response co-ordinator for MARS, said the whale, a younger adult female, was just over six metres long and weighed about five tonnes. 

Veterinarians from Atlantic Veterinary College and the Canadian Wildlife Health Co-operative travelled to Sandy Cove to investigate the cause of death. (Submitted by Christopher Thibodeau)

"We always want to monitor what's happening with these species," Reid said. "There are natural deaths for these animals, but our activities on the water can impact them, so we definitely want to investigate these animals and find out how much of an impact we're having on them."

A veterinary pathologist from the Canadian Wildlife Health Co-operative and staff from the Atlantic Veterinary College travelled to Digby from P.E.I. to lead the necropsy, Reid said, and members of the Oceanographic Environmental Research Society were also at the scene.

Cause of death yet to be determined

MARS said the cause of the whale's death has yet to be determined, and results will be shared with Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

"It does take some time to finalize those reports and process all the tissue samples," Reid said.

If the whale didn't die from natural causes, Thibodeau said, he hopes researchers will find out how to prevent future deaths.

Marine Animal Response Society and Oceanographic Environmental Research Society studying the whale in Sandy Cove. (Submitted by Christopher Thibodeau)

"These are large creatures, and certainly when you're standing next to them, you see how impressive their size really is and it provides food for thought," Thibodeau said.

Reid said the necropsy wouldn't have been possible without the distillery's help. Sometimes it's logistically impossible to do necropsies on beached whales, he said.

"If there's a will then there's a way and Chris was able to do that, so it was a great help," Reid said.

The whale will be buried on Thibodeau's property.

"We're hoping in a couple of years once composting has taken place on the whale and soft tissues have disintegrated, that we can clean these bones up and put them on display somewhere," he said. 

"We're hoping [at] the distillery, but if we could find another home for it, we would be open to that as well."

About the Author

Anjuli Patil


Anjuli Patil is a reporter and occasional video journalist with CBC Nova Scotia's digital team.