NORWAY, P.E.I. – The Canadian Coast Guard and Fisheries and Oceans Canada have beached a dead right whale on a Prince Edward Island shore in a bid to learn what killed at least six of the endangered mammals in recent weeks.
The Marine Animal Response Society said the North Atlantic right whale was brought to shore near Norway, P.E.I., and additional animals may follow.
Teams from various organizations were assembling in the area Wednesday and work on the necropsy is expected to start Thursday, the organization said in a statement.
Officials want to determine if boat strikes, fishing gear or a possible toxic algal bloom could be to blame for the deaths of the whales, spotted floating near Quebec’s Magdalen Islands.
Tonya Wimmer of the Marine Animal Response Society said time is of the essence.
“The longer the animal is dead, the longer it may be decomposing and some of that evidence might begin to deteriorate,” Wimmer said.
The first necropsy is expected to be performed on a whale first spotted on June 18.
The necropsies are being lead by Dr. Pierre-Yves Daoust with the Canadian Wildlife Health Co-operative, Atlantic Veterinary College and the University of Prince Edward Island.
Wimmer said only an internal exam can confirm what may have killed the whales, and they hope to be able to examine two or three of the carcasses.
There are only about 525 North Atlantic right whales in existence.
They can grow to about 15 metres in length and can weigh up to 70,000 kilograms.
Laurie Murison, executive director of the Grand Manan Whale and Seabird Station, said each whale has a distinctive face, and photos and records have been kept for many years.
“They have craggy patches on their heads in the same places we have facial hair — eyebrows, moustaches, beards. These allow us to identify individuals,” she said.
Right whales can live up to 80 years.
— By Kevin Bissett in Fredericton.