Nova Scotia

Massive carcass of endangered blue whale washes onto popular N.S. beach

A carcass of one of the world's largest animals — the endangered blue whale — has washed ashore near a popular white-sand beach in Nova Scotia, but a conservation organization says it likely won't be able to carry out a necropsy to determine the cause of death.

Marine Animal Response Society warning onlookers not to touch the 30-metre animal

A man stands next to a blue whale carcass at Crystal Crescent Beach Provincial Park in Sambro Creek, N.S. (Submitted by Rob MacCallum)

A carcass of one of the world's largest animals — the endangered blue whale — has washed ashore near a popular white sand beach in Nova Scotia.

The Marine Animal Response Society said the massive whale was first spotted by the Canadian Coast Guard on Wednesday evening floating off Sambro, N.S., a fishing community roughly 25 kilometres south of Halifax.

Andrew Reid, a response specialist with the society, said winds caused by Hurricane Larry then washed the whale onto nearby Crystal Crescent Beach Provincial Park in Sambro Creek, N.S., on Thursday morning.

Blue whales are protected under the federal Species at Risk Act. Although the total number of blue whales in the northwest Atlantic is not known, there are only believed to be around 250 adults.

People wearing safety gear work on a 30-metre blue whale that washed ashore at Crystal Crescent Beach Provincial Park in Sambro Creek, N.S. (Submitted by Marine Animal Response Society)

Reid said the 30-metre mature female — roughly the length of two school buses — is situated on a rocky section of Crystal Crescent's third beach, approximately a kilometre trek by boardwalk from the park's entrance.

"Unfortunately it's up in an area among quite large rocks that are seaweed-covered and quite difficult to work around," Reid said on Friday.

Reid said members of the society performed a surface examination and did not see any obvious signs of human interaction, such as a boat strike or fishing gear. Samples were also collected for research purposes.

But because the carcass is surrounded by rough terrain, a necropsy to determine the cause of death will likely not be possible, he said.

"There's a lot of factors to consider when we're planning a necropsy. A safe working location, having the site accessible to an excavator and having the appropriate people respond are all very important," said Reid.

"It's a really difficult situation to work in and unsafe if you're carrying knives, and it's also quite inaccessible to a large excavator."

An aerial view of the blue whale that washed ashore at Crystal Crescent Beach Provincial Park in Sambro Creek, N.S., on Thursday. The whale measures about 30 metres and is a mature female. (Submitted by Marine Animal Response Society)

Reid said the society considered attempting to tow the whale to a new location, but the beach's rocky shoals would have made it difficult to access the area by boat.

However, given the storm surge expected off the Atlantic coast on Friday as the hurricane sweeps toward Newfoundland, the whale's position may shift.

'These populations are really endangered'

Reid described the whale's death as a great loss, especially given that it was potentially a reproducing female.

"It's always sad to see when a female whale is killed. These populations are really endangered and so it is a loss of some of that recovery for the species," he said.

Reid said people will likely be drawn to the area to catch a glimpse of the monstrous, rare species. But he warned not to get too close.

"It is a decomposing animal. It's going to carry bacteria ... but also the site itself is quite dangerous," he said.

"There are large rocks covered in seaweed, but also as the whale breaks down, the blubber starts to put a thin coat of oil on the rocks, so it makes it extremely slippery."

The Marine Animal Response Society says it will likely not be able to perform a necropsy on the endangered blue whale because its location is too dangerous. (Submitted by Marine Animal Response Society)

According to the federal Fisheries and Oceans Canada website, the blue whale is the largest animal on Earth and can weigh up to 180 tonnes, whereas elephants weigh about 4 tonnes. 

Despite its name, blue whales are grey in colour and each has unique markings on their skin, referred to as mottling.

Reid said given that a necropsy is unlikely and the whale is located in a provincial park, the provincial government will determine how to proceed.

In an email, a spokesperson for the Department of Natural Resources and Renewables said "staff are actively exploring options to safely remove the whale from the beach given its size. We ask the public to please have patience and not disturb the site."

On Thursday night, the department issued a tweet saying that access to the second and third beaches was restricted until the whale carcass was removed. It asked for people to stay away from the area while this was being carried out.

When asked for more details about what was being done, the department declined to provide further information.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Aly Thomson

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Aly Thomson is an award-winning journalist based in Halifax who loves helping the people of her home province tell their stories. She is particularly interested in issues surrounding justice, education and the entertainment industry. You can email her with tips and feedback at aly.thomson@cbc.ca.

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