The wandering young humpback whale that made the first of its kind trip up the Saint Lawrence River to Montreal’s Old Port died last June.
After several months of thorough examination, the Quebec Center for the Health of Wild Animals and the Quebec Marine Mammal Emergency Network published an incident report into its death on Wednesday.
Université de Montreal Veterinarian professor Stéphane Lair supervised the humpback’s necropsy. His team believes the marine mammal died a sudden death.
“She didn’t seem to be sick, she seems to be fine and the first thing we knew she was dead,” said Lair.
Trauma to the animal’s body led Lair to initially believe the whale died after a collision with a boat. But after further microscopic examination, researchers were surprised to see how extensive the skin damage was from her prolonged exposure to fresh water.
“It can be hypothesized that the skin infection was actually having an effect on her health and it might have been the cause of death,” he said.
Researchers studied the nine-and-a-half metre-long carcass, crossed with observations from her stay in the river, but experts couldn’t settle on a hypothesis. The whale’s exact cause of death will forever remain a mystery.
He said 30 per cent of marine mammal cases do not get solved because “we’re not able to tell what is the cause of mortality.”
As was the case with this whale, he said “a lot of the time its just because the carcasses are just too decomposed.”
How she also swam against the current and into the Montreal waters also remains a mystery. Researchers analyzed different explanations as to why the whale was some 500 kilometres from its natural habitat in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence.
“One possibility is that the younger animals are looking out for newer habitats because the population is expanding,” said Quebec Emergency Network for Marine Mammals coordinator Robert Michaud.
In recent years, he said, the humpback whale population in the Atlantic Ocean went from almost being endangered to blossoming.
While the whale could have been looking for a new home, she could have also been simply chasing fish or exploring uncharted waters.