We hardly knew you
An unknown, un-catalogued blue whale was first photographed August 26-28, 2019 off Matane in the St Lawrence Estuary by the MICS team not more than 6 miles from the south shore. It was observed in a pair with female B392, which was later seen in the company of 2 known males off Sept-Iles on the North Shore on September 13, 2019. At the time we thought that this unknown whale, IDed in the Matane area was probably a male, because it was paired in a flanking position with Iris B392.
Unfortunately it was found dead on September 18, 2019 in Sutherland Cove near Port Hood on Cape Breton’s northern shore-on the St Lawrence-21 days after last being seen alive. It most likely died on the 16th or 17th and washed ashore September 18. What was the cause of death-fishing gear or was it a ship strike? When last seen in August by MICS staff it was in very good outward appearance-top shape, no fishing gear attached or scarring.
Rene Roy was the first to photo-ID this whale and also the person who discovered the match to its lifeless body in Sutherland Cove.
Department of Fisheries officers and members of the MARS team, based in that region of Cape Breton, provided good quality photographs and detailed measurements. Photographs of the carcass confirmed that it was young male 5-6yrs of age around 17 meters in length. After careful scrutiny of the images provided, we do not feel that this whale was killed due to fishing gear, but that cause of death was more likely due to ship strike or natural causes. Because access to its location was difficult, it was not possible to tow the carcass to a location that would have allowed an experienced team to perform a necropsy, which would have provided valuable information on cause of death. The images of the carcass showed several fresh scars, which were most likely caused because the whale came to rest on a rocky shore and was rolled by wave action over boulders.
This whale - a member of an endangered species, which was but briefly introduced to us, died without revealing much concerning its life, perhaps by ship strike, a problem for whales the world over, particularly in shelf waters where shipping traffic is high. What could he have taught us about his species over time?
Interestingly, two humpback whales, swimming as a pair, also first IDed by Rene Roy off the eastern end of the Gaspe Peninsula on July 18, 2019, were then also both observed floating dead by a NOAA (US Fisheries) flight survey crew on October 13, 2019, off Miscou Island and the Chaleur Bay. Both were juvenile individuals not yet catalogued and when found dead they were not that far apart, which suggests that they foraged in the same area from July to October. The scars that one can see where the caudal peduncle joins the tail indicates, that their death was probably due to entanglement in fishing gear. Young whales are more apt to get caught in fishing gear due to inexperience, though adults can also succumb to such entanglements.
The images included here reveal fairly raw injuries around the
insertion point on the caudal peduncle, which they did not have in July.