A weekend walk for two local residents along a desolate beach on Malcolm Island near Port McNeill resulted in a sad but important discovery — the bloated remains of a dead humpback whale.
“I was very shocked and saddened as I’m used to seeing them alive, and that is often a treasured highlight of living where we do,” Andrew Pinch told CHEK News.
“I often find other awesome things on these beaches. This day was not that and it’s tragic for such a young whale to pass away.”
Andrew and Lori Pinch reported the sighting and efforts began immediately to secure the 10-metre-long carcass.
“Already having gases from decay, she had been pushed in against the shoreline and thereby is a rare opportunity to learn from the body of a dead whale,” said Jackie Hildering of the Marine Education and Research Society (MERS).
“Most often dead whales sink and thereby carry the stories of how they died with them.”
Hildering donned a wetsuit to tie a rope around the whale’s tail which was then fastened to a truck ensuring the whale did not float away and sink.
A necropsy with MERS members and Fisheries and Oceans Canada is scheduled for Wednesday, but results indicating the cause of death could take weeks or longer.
It’s believed the young female, previously identified as “Spike” and seen around Port Hardy since 2018, died recently, which will make the necropsy even more valuable.
“That is getting insight into whether it is entanglement-related or whether it was a collision or whether it is disease or whether this was a young pregnant female,” said Hildering.
“All these sorts of things. It offers us a rare opportunity to learn from the whale, again because most dead whales sink.”
Hildering says there are no obvious external injuries, noting it will not be a surprise if it’s found she died from blunt force trauma after being hit by a boat.
“It’s tough,” Hildering said with emotion. “It’s tough for all of us involved. We’re so lucky humpbacks have this second chance. They’ve come back from the brink. We whaled them up to 1967.”
At least 2000 humpbacks have been documented along the B.C. coast, but an untold number live farther out in the ocean. Hildering says they appear to be moving closer to shore, but scientists don’t know why, citing climate change or prey as possible reasons.
Representatives from the ‘Namgis First Nation were notified and will guide protocols relating to the whale going forward.
The DFO Incident Reporting Line is 1-800-465-4336.