THE rotting carcasses of giant endangered whales are being towed ashore to discover why so many have suddenly died.Scientists have the grisly task of picking through the huge decaying bodies of North Atlantic right whales after they were found floating in the mouth of Canada’s Gulf of St Lawrence.
At least six have died in recent days with the reasons yet to be explained.
Right whales get their name because they were the “right” ones to target back in the heyday of whaling in the 19th Century.
This particular species was targeted by harpooners because the corpses stayed afloat long enough for them to stripped of their precious oils and fat.
It is this buoyancy feature that is helping a government level investigation in Canada after six of the huge creatures, measuring up to 50ft and weighing 70-tons, were found floating at sea.
With fewer than 600 right whales left in the North Atlantic and the species classified as endangered, identifying any threat from toxins or other hazards is vital to safeguard their future.
Necropsies are being carried out under the scrutiny of Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans and will see marine mammal experts and veterinary pathologists taking samples from the bodies being towed ashore at a remote site on Prince Edward Island.
The public are being warned to stay a safe distance away from the area so scientists can “do their important work without distraction, say officials.
Tonya Wimmer, director of the Marine Animal Response Society, described the tragedy as the largest die-off of right whales in North America, adding: “We’ve never had an incident bigger than this.”
She explained to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation that toxic algae, infectious disease, fishing gear entanglements or boat strikes are some of the possible reasons for the mass deaths.
She said: “If it is something that’s human related, you know, something that we can control, then we absolutely have to know that so we can do that.
“There’s so few of them that are left on the planet.”
The task of dissecting the whales will be made all the more difficult because the whales have extremely thick layers of blubber and the scientists need to cut down to the skeleton and vital organs to search for the cause of death.
In a statement, the fisheries department said: “DFO takes the protection, conservation and recovery of endangered species very seriously, and will continue to investigate the deaths of North Atlantic Right whales in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence.”