Fin whale washes up at Miller Creek

  • Sep. 24, 2010 8:00 p.m.

By Heather Ramsay-Staying upwind was a good strategy, but many of those who helped visiting scientists dissect the fin whale that washed ashore last week on the east coast of Graham Island had to burn their clothes. “The smell was atrocious,” said Matt Conley, a Queen Charlotte based-fishery officer who was on the beach at Miller Creek Monday (Sept. 20) with the experts as they tried to determine the cause of the huge mammal’s death. Mr. Conley stood on top of the decaying 50-foot, 35 or 40-tonne whale and used a hockey-stick-like flensing knife to help slit the creature’s backside open. He said a fin whale’s weight is normally estimated at a tonne a foot, but this one was not in good shape. The whale’s blubber was quite thin and had likely been decomposing for some time. The whale rolled up just north of Chinukundl Creek last Thursday (Sept. 16). Two weeks before that, Mr. Conley said, a cruise ship had reported seeing a fin whale floating in nearby waters. Internationally-renowned whale pathologist Stephen Raverty, from the Department of Agriculture’s Animal Health Centre, flew to the islands with Paul Cottrell, the regional mammal coordinator for Fisheries and Oceans Canada, to perform the necropsy on the whale. Fin whales are listed as a species of concern in Canada’s Species at Risk Act, so they wanted to find out what had happened. According to Mr. Conley, Mr. Raverty tried to determine whether the whale had died from being hit by a boat, but his initial efforts proved inconclusive. He removed samples of the heart, lungs and liver from the animal and will take these back to analyze in a lab. Mr. Conley said the work was a community effort with two other fishery officers at the scene along with Haida Fisheries staff and many other volunteers. DFO was able to find some funds to bury the whale and they plan to dig it up again in a few years to retrieve the skeleton, which will be donated to the Haida Heritage Centre. Mr. Conley said locals were raising concerns about the smell and the impact that the whale would have on the popular Miller Creek beach. A 10 or 12-foot deep trench was dug and the whale has been buried, so he expects the smell will dissipate after a few tidal flushes. Anyone who sees a marine mammal either dead or in distress should call 1-800-465-4336.