Scientists were gathered on a dock at the federal Institute of Ocean Sciences in North Saanich Friday performing a necropsy on a grey whale.

“It’s a male grey whale that was about just under 12 metres… likely 5 to 11 years of age in that range,” said Pacific Marine Mammal Coordinator Paul Cottrell.

It’s believed to have died in the last week and was found by boaters Thursday floating in the waters off Sidney.

“There’s no obvious cause of death but the animal is in poor body condition,” said Cottrell.

It was towed to North Saanich, a process that took more than four hours, and Friday morning a team of scientists performed a necropsy. One of the first things they noticed was that the massive animal was emaciated.

It was also covered in whale lice and had low-fat content in its blubber.

“So this was likely one animal that didn’t have enough stores over the winter then the migration affected the animal further and it dropped out of the population,” said Cottrell.

Now Dr. Stephen Raverty, veterinary pathologist, will head the team in charge of figuring out why.

“We’re fortunate enough to get stomach contents and colon contents, so we’ll send those down to Seattle and actually have them analyzed.”

Raverty says this one whale’s death may not tell them much but the information will become a key piece in studying our ocean’s health.

“As we look at these over time and look for trends and different diseases or health issues related to these animals, that’s really where the information will come to fruition,” he said.

Once the tides cooperate, the large mammal will be towed back out to sea.

“These are huge animals and they’re big parts of the food web so putting that animal back is really important and will feed lots of critters,” said Cottrell.

If you come across a dead or injured marine mammal you’re urged to contact the B.C. Marine Mammal Response Network at 1-800-465-4336.

April Lawrence