The Beach and The Whale – Junvenile Humpback Beaches in White Rock

J sent me a text this morning saying that he had heard a whale had washed up on East Beach out at White Rock.  Being a Northern Girl and having never seen a whale up close before, I decided to go take a look.  At this point I had not heard if this was a rescue operation or if I would even be allowed to get close enough to take a picture of it.  But I decided to go any way.

Here are the details courtesy of The Province Newspaper.

The eight and a half metre whale was found severely emaciated and likely starved to death hours after beaching itself.

David Clattenburg, a fishing officer with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) said, from his experience, the thick nylon line is used for bottom fishing — but not in Canada.  The line was found tangled between the whale’s mouth and tail but was cut away in an early morning rescue effort.

Surrey Mounties said the humpback took its last breath around 6:15 a.m., long before it became a sad spectacle for hundreds of White Rock residents and visitors throughout the day.

The carcass of the beached humpback was supposed to be removed by the coast guard at high tide, around 2 p.m. Tuesday, but the water wasn’t high enough, leaving plans for the humpback’s removal fluid.

“We’re going to have to let Mother Nature assist on this … There’s just not enough water to latch onto it,” said Surrey RCMP Sgt. Paul Vadik.

At this point, it’s unclear if the fishing line was the only cause of death. Open sores on the tail and dorsal fins of the humpback could be sources of infection.

Lance Barrett-Lennard, who heads the Vancouver Aquarium’s whale and dolphin research program, said samples taken from the skin will look at that possibility.

“I think it’s the worst humpback I’ve ever seen,” said Barrett-Lennard.

The whale had been starving for two to three months and was unable to feed with the debris in its mouth. Humpbacks migrate from as far as the Mexican coast up to B.C. to feed in the colder waters.

“Even it he’d been found entangled in the last week, the chances of him surviving would have been very, very minute,” Barrett-Lennard said.

There were fresh wounds that bled into the sea, but Lindsaye Akhurst, manager of the marine rescue unit, said there are also some old wounds too, suggesting the whale has been struggling for some time.

White Rock Mayor Wayne Baldwin was on the beach flooded with onlookers Tuesday morning.

“It’s sad to see that big chunk of fishing line sitting right beside it,” said Baldwin.

Humpbacks are considered threatened under Canada’s Species at Risk Act. It’s not odd, but rare when they’re seen in the Strait of Georgia.

Barrett-Lennard is also looking to gather stomach samples to see how tsunami debris affected the whale.

“With all the debris floating in from Japan right now, all the plastic debris, phenomenal amounts of floating foam … I’m very curious how much plastic debris these animals are accumulating in their stomach,” Barrett-Lennard said.

Lara Sloan, a communications officer with the DFO, said a necropsy is unlikely. Barrett-Lennard said the whale will likely go to a museum or be sunk at sea.


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