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Dead whales continue to wash up on B.C. beaches

Fishery officers are taking samples, photographs and measurements of another dead humpback whale.
A decaying humpback was found on the shore in Haida Gwaii on Nov. 20 2022.

Just days after multiple whales washed up dead on shore in British Columbia, another large mammal has turned up deceased. 

The latest dead whale was discovered on Sunday near Naikoon Provincial Park on Haida Gwaii. Experts believe it might have been one of the whales spotted floating in the ocean a few weeks ago.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) says it's aware of the mammal and was notified on Monday. 

"Haida Gwaii fishery officers along with a Haida biologist are taking samples, measurements and photos of a humpback whale in an advanced state of decomposition on the east side of Haida Gwaii,” says Lara Sloan, a spokesperson with DFO. 

DFO adds this could be the fourth or even the fifth dead humpback whale on the north coast this fall. 

"The deceased humpback that was reported (floating) near Prince Rupert in mid-October could be one of the recently reported animals,” says Sloan. Sightings were seen Oct. 12 and 15. 

Due to the advanced decomposition of the carcasses, she tells Glacier Media it would be impossible to determine if they were the same animal. 

In an earlier interview, Paul Cottrell, marine mammal coordinator at DFO, said they weren’t sure of the number of dead whales.

“We have to be careful about double-counting animals because they do float around,” he said.

On Oct. 23, a female humpback whale was found dead off Malcolm Island. Nicknamed Spike, she had suffered blunt force trauma.

On Nov. 5, a young male was found dead and had signs of blunt force trauma but experts have not been able to positively identify him. Finally, on Nov. 13, another carcass washed up. It hasn’t been identified due to the heavy decay. 

Jackie Hildering, a humpback whale researcher with the Port McNeill-based Marine Education and Research Society, agrees that there will be no way of knowing if the most recent discovery is an additional whale or the one that was first seen floating on Oct. 12.

“We don’t know if this is four dead humpbacks total in the last month or five,” she says.

Necropsies are being done on all of the mammals.

Urgent health concern

DFO is asking the public and their pets to keep a safe distance from the dead whales following reports that local Haida Gwaii ingested toxic whale meat.

The warning came on Nov. 16 after a whale washed up dead in the area of Masset Inlet.

Fishery officer Chase Edwards said there are concerns around botulism and also that marine mammal meat and blubber can contain high levels of toxins and heavy metals. 

Anyone who witnesses or sees a whale in distress is asked to contact DFO’s 24-hour reporting line at 1-800-465-4336.