PEI

Necropsy needed to determine cause of right whale deaths: Wildlife pathologist

A marine mammal expert at the Atlantic Veterinary College says timing is critical in the exploration why so many North Atlantic right whales have died in the last couple of weeks.

Logistics to tow whale to shore being worked out

Wildlife pathologist Pierre-Yves Daoust says it's important to get one of carcasses of the 6 right whales to shore for a necropsy. (Department of Fisheries and Oceans)

A marine mammal expert at the Atlantic Veterinary College said timing is critical in the exploration of why so many North Atlantic right whales have died in the last couple of weeks.

Wildlife pathologist Pierre-Yves Daoust said it's important to get one of carcasses of the six right whales to shore for a necropsy. 

"The timing is critical because as each day passes these animals they decompose more, and therefore the quality of the necropsy examination diminishes," said Daoust.

Six right whales have been reported to have died since June 7. Three of the whales had been satellite tagged. 

It is estimated there are only about 500 of these endangered whales living. Daoust said a die-off this big is unprecedented.  

Daoust said the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and scientists are working out the logistics to bring one or more of the carcasses to shore for a necropsy. 

Logistical issues

"Many of us on the scientific side and also on the management side of DFO are hoping that this will happen certainly in the next few to several days."

Daoust said there are many logistical issues to make it happen but he thinks it can be done. He added three can be located through satellite tags and another one is lodged in fishing gear.  

Six North Atlantic right whales have died since June 7. (Department of Fisheries and Oceans)

"So it would be possible to bring one, two, perhaps three of them to shore but it depends on the distance they are from shore and where we could bring them to shore." 

Daoust said while it is speculation, the most logical explanation for the amount of whales dying at one time is they've entered waters experiencing a toxic algae bloom.

But he added if that happened, other smaller whales, birds and fish would be found dead too, and that hasn't happened and no algae blooms have been seen in the Gulf. 

With files from Laura Chapin