Necropsies completed on North Atlantic right whales
Scientists looking at factors including ship strike, entanglement in fishing gear, toxic algae bloom
After performing three necropsies in as many days on dead right whales found floating in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, scientists have left western P.E.I. in order to analyze samples and determine what happened.
Tonya Wimmer, director of the Marine Animal Response Society, said the goal is to have some preliminary findings on the necropsies done in about a week and a more formal report in about a month.
"This was a really massive undertaking in collaboration with so many organizations — from Canada, from the U.S., the federal government and the scientists," she said on Sunday.
'Rose to the challenge'
The three leading causes of death they are looking at include a ship strike, entanglement in fishing gear or a toxic algae bloom.
Wimmer said the biggest challenge was the physically demanding nature of the work.
"To do a necropsy on one animal, especially a large whale, is a pretty big undertaking because you have to have a lot of people and equipment," she said. "It was challenging, but it was pretty amazing to see how many people rose to the challenge. We had people who gave up their long weekend to be there."
The six dead right whales were found floating in the Gulf of St. Lawrence last month.
The first first necropsy was completed Thursday on the shore near Norway, P.E.I. The third and final necropsy, at least for the time being, was completed on Saturday.
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Wimmer said unless the remaining three whales float ashore on their own, it is up to the Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) to determine whether or not to bring the remaining whales in for necropsies, assuming the whales can be found again.
"From a scientific [and] conservation point of view, it would be ideal if we could. I mean, it's logistically a very difficult thing," she said.
As for what's left of the carcasses, technicians from the Royal Ontario Museum are at the beach now, cleaving apart one skeleton piece-by-piece so it can be transported to the museum to be put on display.
"We can learn more from them, and they do a service both to the public and to science," said Jacqueline Miller, a scientist and technician with museum's department of mammology.
"Our aim is to actually develop a gallery of the great marine mammals of the Canadian waters," she said.
The Fisheries and Oceans Canada is expected to take one of the skeletons for display as well.
The third carcass will stay on P.E.I. where it has already been buried in the ground.
North Atlantic right whales are an endangered species. It is believed only about 525 are in existence.
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With files from Nicole Williams