'The smell is not easy to get rid of': 1st right whale necropsy complete

A necropsy on a second right whale, one of six found dead in the Gulf of St. Lawrence this month, is expected to get underway Friday.

WARNING This story contains images some might find disturbing

The research crew poses before beginning an autopsy on a right whale in Norway, P.E.I. (Marine Animal Response Society)

A necropsy on a second right whale, one of six found dead in the Gulf of St. Lawrence this month, is expected to get underway Friday in the far west of P.E.I.

North Atlantic right whales are an endangered species, with only about 525 believed to be in existence. This is believed to be the largest-ever die off of North Atlantic right whales

The first necropsy was completed Thursday, on the shore near Norway, P.E.I. Pierre-Yves Daoust of Charlottetown's Atlantic Veterinary College described it as hard physical labour, and messy work with a decomposing whale.

"The smell is not easy to get rid of. It takes a few days and at least a few showers," said Daoust.

Scientists hope to have preliminary results performed on necroposies on dead right whales in about a week. (Marine Animal Response Society)

As a wildlife pathologist, Daoust has performed a lot of necropsies, and he said he does not let the dirt and smell deter him from his work.

There are about two dozen people working on the 70,000 kilogram whale. Taking the whale apart to examine its insides requires not just hard work from a large crew, but also heavy equipment. But Daoust said in many ways a whale necropsy is the same as for other animals, looking for things that are normal and things that are not.

"We look for the same thing with whales, except it takes a whole lot more time to do the work," he said.

More work to be done

While the necropsy on the first whale is complete the results are still inconclusive. Tissue samples will be analyzed for further clues as to the cause of death.

The three leading candidates for that cause are ship strike, entanglement in fishing gear, or a toxic algae bloom.

"There is no conclusive result yet," said Daoust.

"We made some very good observations."

The necropsy gets started. (Marine Animal Response Society)

He said there is evidence of blunt trauma, consistent with a ship strike. Further analysis will determine if that could have been a cause of death or if it happened after the whale had died.

Tissues are also being analyzed for evidence of poisoning from algae blooms.

Daoust said it is important to determine what killed the whales.

The necropsy requires not just a large crew, but also heavy equipment. (Marine Animal Response Society)

More whales have been moving into the Gulf of St. Lawrence in recent years due to dwindling food supplies in the Bay of Fundy.

If the cause was ship strikes, it may be possible to change routes or ship speeds to avoid future incidents.

"If it is a biotoxin possibly associated with climate change then, of course, it is a much bigger issue to deal with but at least we are aware of what is happening in our Gulf of St. Lawrence," said Daoust.

A second whale was hauled ashore Friday morning for necropsy. It is possible there is more than one cause.

With files from Maritime Noon