The Current

How Atlantic Canada responds to mass whale strandings: marine mammal biologist

Marine mammal biologist Tonya Wimmer of the Marine Animal Response Society says events like the death of 400 whales in New Zealand is happening in smaller numbers along Canada's east coast.

Pilot whales die in Judique after beaching

7 years ago
Duration 0:34
More than a dozen whales beached in Cape Breton earlier this week. Eight of them died.

Read story transcript

The mass stranding of more than 650 pilot whales along the tip of New Zealand's South Island on Feb. 10, resulted in the death of 400 whales — despite efforts of volunteer and professional rescuers.

Why this mass stranding happened is still a mystery.

After airing our segment on The Current exploring why mass strandings remain a mystery, marine mammal biologist Tonya Wimmer wrote to The Current to tell us about the work she does here in Canada.

Marine Animal Response Society is an organization based in Dartmouth, N.S., that has been responding to marine mammal emergencies on Canada's east coast for almost 20 years.

Wimmer tells The Current's guest host Laura Lynch there are at least two to three incidents a year where two to five marine animals are beached along shores in the Maritime provinces and Newfoundland.

"We definitely don't get incidents sort of that large [like in New Zealand] and I say that touching wood because I would never want to. I can't even fathom the scale of what they were dealing with."

Andrew Reid of the Marine Animal Response Society took this photo after the rescue effort ended near Judique, N.S. (Andrew Reid)

Wimmer encounters incidents of beached whales at least two to three times a year. She recounts a dramatic rescue in 2015 where 19 pilot whales were found in Cape Breton.

"All the people were there on site and they were trying to upright the animals and at least get their blowholes, essentially their nose out of the water, and get them sitting in sort of an upright position," Wimmer recalls.

While many whales were saved, Wimmer says a few later returned and died on the shore.

"I've studied these animals and other species for a long time and so to see them in this condition and to hear them especially — it's a bit difficult to sort of be in that instance," Wimmer says.

"But then we really need to focus on how to help them best and how to make sure people are safe."

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Ines Colabrese.