May 13, 2014 10:55 am

Museum seeks local help to recover second blue whale

Mark Engstrom, Senior Curator and Deputy Director of Collections and Research at the Royal Ontario Museum, and his team, cut up the carcass of a blue whale in Winter House Brook, N.L., on Saturday, May 10, 2014.

WOODY POINT, N.L. – The Royal Ontario Museum is seeking local help before it decides whether it will handle a second blue whale carcass in western Newfoundland.

Mark Engstrom, deputy director of collections and research for the museum, says he’ll decide in the next day or two whether work on that whale rotting in Rocky Harbour will go ahead.

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“We’re still reviewing finances and we’re seeing if we can get any local assistance with the Rocky Harbour whale,” Engstrom said Tuesday as he took a break from the stinking, labour-intensive work recovering the first blue whale carcass near Woody Point.

Curious local residents and visitors arrived to take pictures as they have since the extraordinary job started five days ago. The dismantling includes stripping the whale’s cranium clean of muscle, flesh and fat before the crew attempts to load it in one piece on a truck, Engstrom said.

His team was also packing the last of the bones from the 23-metre female whale that will be trucked to Trenton, Ont., where Research Casting International, which specializes in museum displays, will help further handle the remains.

Those specimens will later become accessible to scientists as part of the Royal Ontario Museum’s collection. The skeleton may also be assembled for display if funds are available.

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Engstrom had hoped to handle both whales after local officials asked for help dealing with the rotting carcasses out of concerns they could harm business in a prime tourism zone. But he said unexpected costs, such as towing the first whale from Trout River to nearby Woody Point, have added up.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans says the whale carcasses are not federal responsibility.

It’s believed the two carcasses that washed ashore in Trout River and Rocky Harbour are among nine blue whales that were crushed or drowned in unusually thick pack ice earlier this spring.

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There was evidence of extreme trauma and bleeding on the back of the blue whale dismembered near Woody Point.

Northwest Atlantic blue whales are considered the largest animals on the planet. They can grow to the length of almost 30 metres – the equivalent of two city buses – and weigh up to about 180 tonnes.

The federal Fisheries department estimates that there were just 250 of the blue whales in existence before the nine known deaths.

Commercial hunting in the Atlantic cut historic numbers by about 70 per cent. Even with its now protected status, the fragile population is affected by noise pollution, marine contaminants and collisions with ships.

© The Canadian Press, 2014

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