Vet college tasked with solving mystery of whale's death

Scientists at the Atlantic Veterinary College in Charlottetown had a rare opportunity Wednesday to perform a necropsy on a Cuvier's beaked whale found in New Brunswick.

'It was probably the largest animal that we've ever had in at the Atlantic Veterinary College'

This photo was taken in 2016 when scientists at the Atlantic Veterinary College performed a necropsy on the first beaked whale found in the region. (MARS, submitted)

Officials with the Atlantic Veterinary College are trying to determine why a massive whale died off the northeast coast of New Brunswick.

The Cuvier's beaked whale was found Wednesday evening in Val-Comeau, on the Acadian Peninsula. The 2,400-kilogram male whale was taken to the college where Dr. Laura Bourque performed a seven-hour necropsy on the mammal Thursday.

"I don't have a good cause of death yet," Bourque said, noting there was no sign the whale had been entangled in fishing gear. 

"There were a number of interesting type of lesions that we found during necropsy, but nothing that would have caused it definitively to strand."

All the results will not be in until sometime in the new year, but Bourque has some thoughts on what may have happened. 

Size of whale made necropsy a challenge

"They're not normally in this area which is another suggestion that it might have just got lost," she said. The whales are usually found in much deeper waters of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. 

'It might have just got lost,' says veterinary pathologist Dr. Laura Bourque of the whale. (Submitted by University of Prince Edward Island)

She said samples taken from the whale will be studied in the weeks to come — including its teeth, which will be used to identify its age. The rest of the carcass will be incinerated, she said. 

The whale's skeleton has been taken to the New Brunswick Museum.

Bourque said the size of the whale made the necropsy a challenge. 

"It was probably the largest animal that we've ever had in at the Atlantic Veterinary College for a necropsy," she said, adding the team at the college learned a lot from the whale being brought to the college.

"We would rather not be seeing these species this close hand because we'd rather them be healthy and alive out in the ocean. But if we have the opportunity to study them, it's our responsibility to gather as much information as possible."

More P.E.I. news

With files from Jessica Doria-Brown


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