DFO and ISO Scientists, with reps from BC Agriculture, complete a necropsy on the dead whale. Big knives and pikes were used to cut through the blubber. (Nick Murray/News Staff)

DFO and ISO Scientists, with reps from BC Agriculture, complete a necropsy on the dead whale. Big knives and pikes were used to cut through the blubber. (Nick Murray/News Staff)

Necropsy of grey whale rules out plastic poisoning

Emaciated, lice infested whale had no plastic in its stomach when it died near Victoria

Some findings from Friday’s grey whale necropsy have been released, with plastic ruled out as a cause of death.

The dead whale was spotted by a contractor on Thursday, April 4, between James and Sidney islands. The sighting was then called in using the 1-800- marine mammal hotline.

*Warning: This video contains graphic content and may not be suitable for all readers.

It was originally mistaken for a killer whale due to what appeared to be a huge dorsal fin sticking out of the water, but was actually the certain appendage of a grey whale.

The whale was towed by a Maritime Patrol Program boat around the Saanich Peninsula to the DFO base in North Saanich. There, the whale was inspected and found to be a sexually mature male, 12 metres in length and half its expected weight. The “fairly emaciated” whale was also riddled with “out of control” whale lice.

The necropsy, on Friday, April 5, was led by Dr. Stephen Raverty, Veterinary Pathologist of the BC Ministry of Agriculture, who is a specialist in whale necropsies and marine mammals.

A team of about 10 scientists and researchers from Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), the Institute of Ocean Sciences (IOS) and UBC students assisted Raverty.

Paul Cottrell, DFO regional marine mammal coordinator, said it was moving to work on such a majestic creature.

ALSO READ: Scientists warn warmer and more acidic oceans threaten marine life

“It’s sobering to work on such a huge mass of animal but it is so important to get information from it, especially as we’re looking at how to minimize or mitigate threats to this species as they are listed as a Special Concern.”

Cottrell ruled out plastic as a cause of death, saying none of the substance was found in its digestive system or stomach. At this time, the cause of death remains unclear and samples have been sent for further analysis.

The scientists who receive samples will test for heavy metals, contaminants and pathogens to try establish a definitive cause of death.

“This species is susceptible to entanglements and vessel strikes,” Cottrell said, adding, “We send samples away to see if there are any broader problems with the ecosystem.”

Cottrell reports that the DFO is collaborating with Southern Californian network NOAA to see if there are any wider threats to west coast whale populations.

ALSO READ: Slaying dragons: getting inside the minds of climate change skeptics

Decaying whales produce internal gases that can build up inside a whale and even cause small explosions as they break through tissue to escape. The April 5 necropsy had long gurgling escapes of gas and a small explosion with blood spraying the arms of Raverty.

“He is the expert and we are very lucky to have him lead the necropsy,” says Cottrell. “He knows when it can be dangerous. You can get covered in blood and have pathogens blown into your mouth so we let him do it as he is so used to it.”

The scientists said that necropsies offer a huge opportunity to better understand the animals and their ecosystem. They ask that if anyone sees a marine mammal that is “injured, distressed or entangled,” they call the 24/7 marine mammal hotline 1-800-465-4336.



nick.murray@peninsulanewsreview.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A fire destroyed a commercial building on Idlemore Road early Tuesday. The fire is under investigation. (Kenn Mount photo)
Early morning fire destroys Sooke business

Firefighters still investigating cause of distillery blaze

The Capital Regional District hopes to be a national leader in zero waste and the circular economy, but getting there will take curbing construction waste and addressing challenges brought on by the region’s growth. Pictured is the Hartland landfill. (Black Press Media file photo)
CRD aims to be zero waste national leader, reduce enough to curb landfill expansion

Capital Region will have to reduce major waste sources: construction, organics from apartments

Langford Fire Rescue (Black Press Media file photo)
Langford looks to strike out on its own for emergency fire dispatch services

Mayor Stew Young says the city is large enough to negotiate solo

Victoria Police Department looks to identify a person of interest after a Friday night stabbing. (VicPD handout)
Police seek person of interest after Victoria stabbing

Friday night assault leaves one with potentially life-altering injuries

Sean Hart, 34, unexpectedly left the Seven Oaks Tertiary Mental Health Facility in Saanich on Nov. 6, 2020 and has now been missing for six months. (Photo courtesy Penny Hart)
Search continues for Saanich man Sean Hart six months after his disappearance

Support from community, police keeps his mother hopeful

A bullet hole is seen in the windshield of an RCMP vehicle approximately 4 km from Vancouver International Airport after a one person was killed during a shooting outside the international departures terminal at the airport, in Richmond, B.C., Sunday, May 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Homicide team IDs man in fatal YVR shooting as police grapple with spate of gang violence

Man, 20, charged in separate fatal shooting Burnaby over the weekend

Dr. Bonnie Henry talks about phase two in B.C.’s COVID-19 immunization plan. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
All of B.C. will eventually ease out of COVID-19 restrictions at same time: Henry

People who have received two doses of a vaccine can’t yet return to post-pandemic activities with each other, she says

Winnipeg Jets’ Andrew Copp (9) and Edmonton Oilers goaltender Mike Smith (41) watch an incoming shot during second period NHL action in Winnipeg, Monday, April 26, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Greenslade
‘Very jealous’: Canadian teams can’t take advantage of NHL’s relaxed COVID-19 rules

League eased some tight COVID-19 health and safety protocols over the weekend for fully vaccinated clubs

A map of Huu-ay-aht-owned forestry cutblock. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)
B.C. First Nations restrict access to territory in wake of forestry standoffs

Huu-ay-aht set up checkpoints after heated and dangerous incidents on southwest Vancouver Island

RCMP are searching for Philip Toner, who is a ‘person of interest’ in the investigation of a suspicious death in Kootenay National Park last week. Photo courtesy BC RCMP.
RCMP identify ‘person of interest’ in Kootenay National Park suspicious death

Police are looking for Philip Toner, who was known to a woman found dead near Radium last week

Vancouver Canucks goaltender Thatcher Demko (35) makes a save on Winnipeg Jets’ Nate Thompson (11) during second period NHL action in Winnipeg, Monday, May 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Greenslade
Vancouver Canucks see NHL playoff hopes dashed despite 3-1 win over Winnipeg

Montreal Canadiens earn final North Division post-season spot

The B.C. legislature went from 85 seats to 87 before the 2017 election, causing a reorganization with curved rows and new desks squeezed in at the back. The next electoral boundary review could see another six seats added. (Black Press files)
B.C. election law could add 6 seats, remove rural protection

North, Kootenays could lose seats as cities gain more

The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. is investigating the shooting of an Indigenous woman in the Ucluelet First Nation community of Hitacu. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. First Nation wants ‘massive change’ after its 3rd police shooting in less than a year

Nuu-chah-nulth woman recovering from gunshot wounds in weekend incident near Ucluelet

Most Read