Update, July 31 – A Necropsy for the eighth Right Whale carcass

  • Baleine noire juvénile qui ouvre la gueule pour s'alimenter © Georgia DNR, NOAA Permit #15488.
    Baleine noire juvénile qui ouvre la gueule pour s'alimenter © Georgia DNR, NOAA Permit #15488.
    20 / 07 / 2017 Par Josiane Cabana

    July 31 | Ninth confirmed carcass of right whale

    Fisheries and Oceans Canada has confirmed that it has found two carcasses of right whales in Newfoundland. At least one of the two carcasses had not yet been identified. The total is now 9 dead right whales that died since June 6 in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

    July 21 | Necropsy on Miscou Island

    The necropsy of the eighth Right Whale carcass is ongoing right now on Miscou Island. Are onsite Canadian Wildlife Health Network – Quebec Center for Wild Animal Health, University of Montreal and Atlantic Veterinary College, University of Prince Edward Island, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Marine Animal Response Society.

    More details will follow.

    July 20 | A new carcass and a new entanglement

    A Right Whale carcass was discovered yesterday afternoon during a NOAA air patrol. The count now stands at eight carcasses since June 6, an event of mortality never seen before for this species. Fisheries and Oceans Canada announced that the carcass would be towed towards Miscou Island within a few hours to perform a necropsy over the next few days. This operation allows the researchers to collect valuable information on the cause(s) of the death of this whale and to investigate a possible link between the other cases of mortality of right whale. Necropsy will be supervised by the Canadian Wildlife Health Network.

    To the eight carcasses was added a fourth case of entanglement of right whales, located in the same sector of the Gulf. At this time, no action is envisaged as Fisheries and Oceans Canada has established an indefinite moratorium on right whale disentanglement operations.

    July 13 | Preliminary Findings on North Atlantic Right Whale Necropsies in the Magdalen Islands

    Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative veterinarians today released the preliminary results of the two right whale necropsies on 9 and 10 July in the Magdalen Islands. If one of the two carcasses was too decomposed to allow a preliminary diagnosis, the second carries the marks of a blunt trauma, suggesting that there was a collision between the whale and a craft.

    On July 9th, the necropsy of carcass # 3, seen for the first time drifting on June 18th and shored on July 5th on Corfu beach, took place. Its decomposition state being too advanced, it is impossible for the veterinarians to suggest a cause of death on the sole basis of the macroscopic examination of the carcass. Further analyzes are in progress in the hope of finding a diagnosis.

    For the whale studied on 10 July, the seventh and last carcass seen drifting and towed on the beach, the hypothesis of a blunt trauma could be envisaged. In the case of right whale necropsies in Prince Edward Island, two carcasses showed signs of blunt trauma and chronic entanglement.

    Analyzes on tissues and fluids taken to try to identify an underlying cause, such as the presence of biotoxins, that could explain these close deaths over a short period of time. A final report for these two necropsies should be available within 6 to 8 weeks.

    “These preliminary results stem from an important collective effort. The last few weeks have called for the mobilization of a diversity of actors who have worked hard. We are all on alert until we have the complete results of the necropsies, “said Robert Michaud, Coordinator of the Quebec Marine Mammal Emergency Network and Scientific Director of the Marine Mammal Research and Education Group . “Last Monday, the death of Joe Howlett threw a veil over the incredible work accomplished. We once again salute his contribution to the rescue of right whales. ”

    Participants included the Canadian Wildlife Health Network – Quebec Center for Wild Animal Health, University of Montreal and Atlantic Veterinary College, University of Prince Edward Island, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Quebec Marine Mammal Emergencies Network, the Marine Animal Response Society, the Environment Canada Network and the Department of Sustainable Development, Environment and Climate Change, the municipalities of the Iles-de-La-Madeleine, the Marine Mammal Research and Education Group,


    -Since June 6, seven carcasses of right whales have been found and three reports of entanglements have been received.

    -A first series of three necropsies was held in Norway, Prince Edward Island from June 29 to July 1.

    -A second series of two necropsies in Corfu, Iles-de-la-Madeleine, July 9 and 10.

    – Two interventions of dismantling took place, on July 5 and July 10.

    -The success of the July 10 disembarkation was clouded by the tragic death of fisherman and whale rescuer Joe Howlett, a member of the Campobello Whale Rescue Team.

    July 11 | Two Right Whale Necropsies Completed in Magdalen Islands

    The C.T.M.A. Vacancier brought veterinary crews back to the New Brunswick coast this morning after two days of gruelling work demanding expert hand coordination. Exhausted but satisfied with the work that went according to plan, Émilie L. Couture of Université de Montréal’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine points out that “the two right whale necropsies are a great achievement made possible thanks to several partners.* Such a situation fully warranted the efforts that were made.”

    On Sunday and Monday, the teams studied two whales – the most decomposed and the freshest of the seven carcasses – that were part of a series of unusual mortalities in the Gulf. These are in addition to three other right whales examined from June 29 to July 1 in Prince Edward Island. Both whales were males, one measuring 14.75 m and the other 12.9 m.

    Pathologists will have to consult with other veterinarians specializing in the species and undertake more in-depth discussions and analyses of their samples before publishing in the days to come a preliminary report on the findings of the recent necropsies. Other analyses, including for the presence of biotoxin in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, will also be carried out by specialized laboratories.

    Right whale untangling ends badly

    Yesterday, July 10, fisherman and whale rescuer Joe Howlett lost his life in an operation to free an entangled right whale.

    Mr. Howlett had succeeded in disentangling a right whale on July 5. Another whale was reported caught in fishing gear off New Brunswick on Sunday night. Mr. Howlett’s team, the Canadian Whale Institute’s Campobello Whale Rescue Team, was dispatched to the scene. They managed to release the whale, but shortly afterwards, an unfortunate accident involving the cetacean resulted in the death of Mr. Howlett.

    Joe Howlett and his crew have participated in a large number of rescues of this type and have thus developed invaluable expertise. The Quebec Marine Mammal Emergency Network has regularly solicited their assistance, as was the case in 2013 (article in French), when the fin whale “Capitaine Crochet” was entangled.

    “In memory of this hero who saved a number of whales, preventing entanglements must become a priority to ensure a better co-existence with whales,” points out the Group for Research and Education on Marine Mammals.

    Since June 6, seven right whales have died and three have been reported entangled, giving rise to two disentanglement attempts.

    A video illustrates Mr. Howlett helping to free a right whale in 2016:

    * Partners involved in right whale necropsies are veterinarians from the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative in the Montréal and Atlantic regions; the science, conservation and protection teams of Fisheries and Oceans in the Quebec, Gulf and Maritime regions; the Marine Animal Response Society and the Quebec Marine Mammal Emergency Network and its volunteers.

    July 6 | The carcass of the third of the six dead right whales found in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in June has recently washed ashore in the Magdalen Islands. Spotted early yesterday morning by a fisherman, the carcass was drifting a few hundred metres from shore. It ran aground last night on the beach, a few kilometres from the Corfu Island shipwreck in L’Étang-du-Nord.

    This past weekend, necropsies were performed on three of the six carcasses towed to Prince Edward Island. Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) authorities are working with veterinarians to evaluate the possibility of a fourth necropsy in an attempt to understand the causes of this unprecedented wave of deaths.

    A male named Panama

    Tail of the right whale named Panama © Center for Coastal Studies

    Tail of the right whale named Panama © Center for Coastal Studies

    The right whale stranded in the Magdalen Islands is listed in the catalogue under no. 3190. It is a male known as Panama, who was first seen in 2000. Already then, he showed a conspicuous scar near his tail, testimony of a run-in with fishing gear. It was this distinctive marking that allowed researchers at the New England Aquarium to recognize him. His exact age when he was first observed is unknown, but he must now be over 17 years old (sexual maturity is between 5 and 10 years for both sexes). Panama was last seen alive on April 14, 2017 by researchers of the Center for Coastal Studies. He was feeding in Cape Cod Bay. He was also observed closer to us last fall, on September 6, 2016, by the Mingan Island Cetacean Study team in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Panama was the known father of at least one calf born in 2011.

    Species at Risk: Do not Touch

    At the present time, the carcass remains difficult to access. If it leaves the tidal zone, some people might be tempted to approach it, touch it, or even collect small samples from it.

    Fisheries and Oceans Canada reminds us that right whales are listed as a Species at Risk (SARA). It is therefore against the law to take any part of this animal. Only individuals holding a permit issued by the Ministry are authorized to touch, move, or take samples from species at risk.

    A 7th whale carcass off Havre-Aubert

    Another right whale carcass was spotted 30 nautical miles off Havre-Aubert last night by a member of the Coast Guard. Experts confirmed this morning that this was a new carcass that had not been spotted earlier by air or sea. The right whale mortality count now stands at seven in one month.

    On July 5, a right whale entangled in a fishing gear was spotted on an air patrol being conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (US counterpart to Fisheries and Oceans Canada) near Miscou Island. A nearby research vessel was able to release the whale, which was then able to continue on its way.

    July 5  | Right Whale Mortality : Preliminary Results

    The three necropsies carried out from June 29 to July 1 on North Atlantic Right Whales provided partial answers as to the causes of mortality of these animals.

    According to the expertise of the veterinarians, one of the three whales would have undergone a severe entanglement in a fishing gear. The other two were reportedly involved in a collision with a ship, judging by the haemorrhages in their tissues. The assumption that a particular situation might have lead to these collisions is not excluded at this stage. In the next weeks, specialists will be complete laboratory testing of tissues, analysis of food chain and oceanographic data, and chronological ordering of events. The findings should be published within six to eight weeks.

    Tonya Wimmer of the Marine Animal Response Society noted the complexity of the work, as the three whales were in an advanced state of decomposition upon their arrival in Prince Edward Island. The carcass considered to be the freshest had been dead for at least one week, which made it difficult to identify the different organs.

    It is possible that in the next few days, a fourth necropsy will occur, as the third carcass to have been reported drifts to the Magdalen Islands and may land soon.

    The three necropsies on Prince Edward Island were led by Dr. Pierre-Yves Daoust (Canadian Wildlife Health Network), assisted by Dr. Laura Bourque (Canadian Wildlife Health Network ), Dr. William McLellan (University of North Carolina Wilmington) and Dr. Stephen Raverty (BC Animal Health Center). More than forty people from several organizations, including veterinarians from the Université de Montréal, participated in the interventions.

    Here is a summary in pictures of these days of hard work:

    MARS Right whale

    UPDATE – Preliminary Findings from Right Whale NecropsiesAfter a long few weeks and the incredible effort to retrieve and necropsy three animals in PEI, we can release some preliminary information on the state of these animals:Based on preliminary observations, there is reasonable suggestion of blunt trauma in two of the animals, although underlying problems that may have predisposed these animals to this trauma cannot be ruled out at this stage. The third animal had a chronic entanglement. Additional analyses are still ongoing and we anticipate completing a final report within 6-8 weeks.There is clearly work that needs to be done immediately to protect this species throughout it’s range in Canadian waters. Thank you to everyone for your continued support and interest in this tragic incident. A special thank you to all of the agencies listed in the video and all of the people on the ground over these 3 days: Pierre-Yves, Laura, Stephen, Bill, Isabelle, Andrew, Jarrett, Ashley, Briar, Liam, Jessica, Fiep, Darlene, Rachel, Twila, Scott, Cathy, Stephanie, Renee, Dan, Jean-Francois, Hilary, Tobie, Mikio, Angelia, Emilie, Rozen, Benjamin, Kathleen, Dara, Elizabeth, Chris, Pat, Don, Mary, Ken, Shona, Maddie, Tim, Pete, Jen, Shavonne, Travis, Craig, Marcus…and more to be added as I remember all of the names!SPREAD THE WORD. SUPPORT THE CAUSE. DONATE NOW.Justin Trudeau Dominic LeBlanc Catherine McKenna

    Posted by Marine Animal Response Society on Monday, July 3, 2017

    July 3  | A Third Necropsy Completed

    On July 1, the third and final right whale necropsy was completed in Norway, Prince Edward Island. The necropsy marathon lasted four days, where carcasses were towed and necropsies were performed at an unprecedented rate.

    Over the next few days, samples will continue to be analyzed. Preliminary results are expected to be disclosed during the week.

    Under the supervision of Pierre-Yves Daoust, a professor at the University of Prince Edward Island and a researcher at Fisheries and Oceans Canada, veterinarians from the University of British Columbia, the University of Saskatchewan and the University of Montreal, and members of the Marine Animal Response Society team have been working together to find all possible clues to determine what has caused the death of six right whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence since June 6.

    Video from Marine Animal Response Society

    June 30  | Right Whale Mortality : A Second Necropsy in  Progress

    During the day, the necropsy of the second right whale carcass took place. This carcass was the freshest of the six. A third carcass, which was entangled in a fishing net, is currently being transported to Norway, Prince Edward Island, and is expected to reach the shore by the end of the night. The necropsy of this third carcass will take place tomorrow. It could take several weeks to get the results of the analysis of the samples taken by veterinarians.

    In the last few days, a report of a seventh carcass had been received, but the analysis of the photos concluded that it was an already identified carcass. The total remains six carcasses of North Atlantic right whale since June 6. In the same area (Gulf of St. Lawrence) a fin whale carcass was found.

    The fin whale found in the same area than the North Atlantic right whales carcasses © Fisheries and Oceans Canada

    Performing a necropsy on a 14 m long whale has a lot of challenges © Fisheries and Oceans Canada


    June 28  | Right Whale Mortalities : First Necropsies

    At the time of writing, one of the six right whale carcasses is approaching the shores of Prince Edward Island, transported by a Canadian Coast Guard vessel, and should be dropped off in the community of Norway by sunset. The first necropsy will begin tomorrow morning. Veterinarians from the University of Prince Edward Island, the University of North Carolina Wilmington, the University of Montréal’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, assisted by researchers and volunteers from Canada and the United States, will carry out meticulous tissue and organ analysis.

    In total, the teams plan to perform necropsies on two or even three whales by early next week. The second whale carcass, the towing of which will probably start tomorrow, is the one known as catalogue #1207. It is the freshest carcass of the six, a male of undetermined age, but known to researchers since 1980 and last photographed in June 2014. This whale used to frequent the waters of Maine, with a few visits to Florida and Georgia, but it was also seen in August 1998 in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

    Air surveys and sea patrols will also continue over the next few days to locate previously reported carcasses, or new ones, if any.

    To follow the updates of these operations, you can visit the Marine Animal Response Society’s Facebook page, in addition to the Whales Online website. A video was released this morning showing samples being taken at sea from one of the right whales.

    Right whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence

    UPDATE – RIGHT WHALES IN THE GULF OF THE ST. LAWRENCE:Necropsies are being planned for 2-3 endangered North Atlantic right whales that are currently being towed ashore to Norway, PEI. The first animal is expected to be brought ashore today with the necropsy commencing Thursday morning. Intentions are to bring additional animals to the same site later in the week. This is a joint effort between Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Canadian Coast Guard, the Marine Animal Response Society, Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative-Atlantic Veterinary College/UPEI, Université de Montréal and colleagues from the UNCW, Urgences Mammifères Marins and the Province of British Columbia. Scientists in Canada the US were also involved in the planning of this work. We are grateful for the help of everyone involved! It will be hard work, but we have a great team coming together for this critical work.A special thank you to the Province of Prince Edward Island for accommodating and facilitating this operation and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Environment and Natural Resources in Canada for keeping track of animals during aerial surveys.Justin Trudeau Catherine McKenna Dominic LeBlanc #cmara

    Posted by Marine Animal Response Society on Wednesday, June 28, 2017

    June 26  | Developing a Right Whale Carcass Recovery Strategy

    Pursuant to aerial surveys conducted by NOAA and Environment Canada between June 22 and June 25, 6 different right whale carcasses were found. A few dozen other right whales have also been observed in the same area, between the Magdalen Islands, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick.

    The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) and US and Canadian partners held a meeting this morning to review the situation. Thanks to the efforts made at sea since last weekend by DFO, the Canadian Coast Guard, the Marine Animal Response Society (MARS), and the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative, three whales have been “secured” with satellite transmitters and can now be tracked as they continue to drift. Another carcass is also anchored and stationary, as it is immobilized by fishing gear.

    Samples were taken at sea from two of the six carcasses © Marine Animal Response Society (MARS)

    Samples were taken at sea from two of the six carcasses © Marine Animal Response Society (MARS)

    DFO is currently considering options for towing these carcasses to dry land in order to conduct a comprehensive investigation with complete necropsies. Veterinarians, researchers and coordinators at DFO are currently studying the feasibility and logistics of such an operation.

    Offshore teams were also busy recovering samples from two of the carcasses, including skin, blubber, feces, and muscle tissue. The objective is to provide insight into the sudden cause of mortality in these whales.

    All conjectures are currently being looked at by right whale scientists. The most frequent causes of mortality in this species are ship strikes and entanglement in fishing gear. The hypothesis of the presence of a biotoxin produced by algae such as the one responsible for the red tide episode observed in the St. Lawrence in 2008 has also been raised by the scientific community. Tissue analyses and water samples might shed more light on the matter.

    An advisory is still in effect: boat operators are encouraged to report any drifting whale carcasses to the emergency number for the St. Lawrence Gulf Region, 1-866-567-6277.

    June 23 | The researchers confirmed last night that a fifth carcass of right whale was drifting in the Gulf of St. Lawrence

    With the analysis of the photos taken yesterday by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), researchers found that the count of dead right whales photographed since June 6 was now up to five carcasses.

    Yesterday was a successful day on the water collecting samples and data from two of the five dead right whales currently floating in southern Gulf of St. Lawrence. A great collaborative effort between MARS, Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Canadian Coast Guard.

    Researchers in Canada and in the United States are currently mobilizing their resources to plan efforts to find these carcasses, set guidelines for tracking their drift, and sample whales to make analyzes that could provide elements of response to the mystery that hovers over these mortalities.

    June 22 | A Fourth Dead Right Whale Drifting

    The aerial patrol from June 21 afternoon made by Fisheries and Oceans Canada to track the right whale carcasses identified two, including one seen by a fisherman on June 18. Photos of the other spotted carcass were sent to the New England Aquarium, which confirmed that it was a fourth right whale carcass.

    Starboard, a 11 years old, was seen dead and drifting on June 21, in the St. Lawrence Gulf. It is the 4th carcass found since June 6. © New England Aquarium

    The whale found was Starboard, a female born in 2006 of her mother named Trilogy. She was 11 years old, and easily recognizable to the right portion of her tail that is missing. This characteristic made it possible to identify her earlier today. This female, who had never given birth yet, had been seen by researchers for the last time in August 2014, in the Roseway Basin.

    One of the Carcasses Found Today Off the Îles-de-la-Madeleine

    Efforts to trace these specimens continue. A team of Fisheries and Oceans Canada was heading this afternoon at sea to one of the carcasses that was spotted on the surface of the water, about 30 kilometres from the Magdalen Islands coast, to the southwest Of Havre-Aubert. The goal, in addition to finding the other carcasses, was to place satellite beacons in order to track the whales, to facilitate finding the whales when the team will be ready to take samples.

    An air patrol of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) should be made tomorrow. The goal is to be able to obtain more photos of the animals, in order to be able to determine if they have marks of a collision with a vessel or entanglement in a fishing gear.

    June 21  Three Dead Right Whales Drifting in the Gulf

    The scientific community is concerned: since June 6, three North Atlantic right whale carcases have been reported drifting in the Gulf of St. Lawrence between New Brunswick and the Magdalen Islands. The right whale is one of the most endangered species. Researchers at the New England Aquarium estimate that there are fewer than 500 individuals remaining in this population.

    These carcasses are in addition to three that were found in the summer of 2015 in the Gaspé region, including that of Piper (article in French). According to right whale specialist Moira Brown, these mortalities in the St. Lawrence River are an unexplained event that surpass known mortality incidents in other parts of this species’ range.

    Advisory to Fishers and Other Boaters

    Carcasses were observed on June 6, 18 and 19 between New Brunswick and the Magdalen Islands (notably off Miscou Island), either by Fisheries And Oceans Canada during air patrols or by crabbing boats. According to modelling simulations, depending on the wind and the current, the carcasses are expected to continue drifting northeast, away from shore.

    Trois carcasses de baleines noires ont été rapportées dans le golfe du Saint-Laurent le 6, le 18 et le 19 juin 2017

    An advisory is issued to anyone sailing in this area: it is essential that each of these right whales be documented. Photos, videos, detailed observations of markings or other signs of human interaction are essential.

    If you observe a floating dead whale, please contact Marine Mammals Emergencies immediately at

    1-877-7baleine (1-877-722-5346).

    It will be important to take note of the GPS position. The Call Centre team will then be able to provide instructions so that you can document the carcass as well as possible.

    Your collaboration is highly appreciated.

    Josiane Cabana serves as Director for the Quebec Marine Mammal Emergency Response Network call centre. When she’s not responding to cases of dead or vulnerable marine mammals, she likes to take the time to educate local residents on the threats faced by these animals. Biologist by training, she has been involved with the GREMM for more than 15 years, and always with the same undying passion!