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Necropsies of whales that washed ashore in Port Hood show they were healthy at time of death

By Joe Thomson Jun 14, 2023 | 3:12 PM

Bertrand Borie / Unsplash

The necropsies of the eight whales who died after washing ashore in Port Hood have been completed.

Executive director for the Marine Animal Rescue Society, Tonya Wimmer, said all the animals were healthy, meaning they likely got stuck chasing after food.

“The issue that happens is if the fish or the squid, or whatever they’re following, gets too close to shore sometimes the animals can get quite disoriented. When the tide goes back out, they get stuck, which seems to be the case with these animals.,” said Wimmer.

She added that coming to the scene on Sunday was difficult saying nobody wants to see these animals anywhere other than the ocean. Despite the difficult nature of coming across eight dead animals, Wimmer and her team still had a job to do.

The rest of the pod was still stranded in the harbour, including three calves that washed ashore with the other whales. Thankfully they were returned to sea thanks to a group of locals who worked to push and pull them away from shore. All in all, 29 more whales were milling about the harbour putting them at risk to wash ashore as well.

Wimmer says that pilot whales like to travel in large groups usually made up of their family members. She believes it was likely very traumatic for them to have lost members of their pod, adding to their stress and confusion in finding a way out of the harbour, which only has a couple channels leading in and out of it.

“These animals seem quite adept at getting into places and at times they can get very confused and not able to find their way out,” said Wimmer.

Wimmer says that after examining the pod along with crews from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the decision was made to use the boats to coax them out of the harbour and back to the open seas. After about two and a half hours of incredible and careful work by the people steering the boats, all 29 of the remaining pod were returned to deeper waters.

Wimmer says that while incidents like this are extremely tragic and by no means does she wish for them to happen more often, the silver lining is that it allows researchers to study the animals up close and learn about their role in the greater ocean ecosystem.

“We don’t know a lot about these animals. So, these sad events while they are very sad and tragic, they do present an opportunity to gather a lot of information about the biology of the animal to try to understand its ecology,” said Wimmer.


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