This photo of the deceased harbour porpoise on Ucluelet’s Big Beach high tide line was taken on July 22, 2020. (Nora O’Malley photo)

DFO reports unusually high whale mortalities in 2020

“It’s so important to have all these eyes and ears in the community reporting these deaths.”

The putrid smell of a decaying harbour porpoise wafted from the shoreline of Ucluelet’s Big Beach last week.

Paul Cottrell, the B.C. marine mammals co-ordinator for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), said the small and characteristically shy marine mammal was too decomposed to undergo a necropsy.

“It’s going to become part of the food web and will be going back to nature,” said Cottrell, adding that DFO records about 30 to 40 harbour porpoise deaths per year.

Cottrell told the Westerly News there has been an unusually high mortality rate of gray whales over the last couple of years. From the Pacific Coast of Mexico upwards to Alaska, about 150 gray whales have washed up dead this year, according to Cottrell.

“It’s significantly more than a normal year,” he said.

A gray whale carcass that was recently discovered near Ucluelet was “fairly fresh,” and DFO was able to collect samples from the body to determine the cause of death. It had blunt force trauma to the dorsal side, but it may have occurred after death.

Karyssa Arnett and Sydney Dixon from Strawberry Isle Marine Research Society assisted DFO with the onsite necropsy.

“It was really incredible. That was my first time doing that type of thing on site. A 32 and half foot gray whale… that was pretty spectacular,” said Dixon, who holds a double major in geography and environmental studies from the University of Victoria.

They took blubber samples to assess the overall health of the whale, as well as samples of skin, barnacle, organ, and fecal matter through the intestines. Those were sent off to a veterinary pathologist.

Cottrell said one theory for the large die-off of Pacific gray whales is likely related to food supply.

DFO is also investigating an elephant seal carcass that washed up on Cox Bay this month with trauma to the face.

“It’s so important to have all these eyes and ears in the community reporting these deaths. We’ve got a great team in the community out there,” said Cottrell.

To report a marine mammal or sea turtle found entangled, stranded, distressed or dead, call the toll-free marine mammal incident reporting hotline 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-800-465-4336, use VHF Channel 16 (Coast Guard), or email DFO.ORR-ONS.MPO@dfo-mpo.gc.ca.

This coming August, DFO will lead a mock whale-saving training exercise with community partners. Part of the exercise involves saving a life-sized killer whale from disentanglement.

“I was working on the water before as a whale watching guide for several years. It’s really nice to be on the other side of it. It’s great. I love working in Ucluelet. It’s a beautiful community and it’s nice to be giving back,” Dixon said.



nora.omalley@westerlynews.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

READ: Crews work to free three humpback whales entangled near Vancouver Island

READ: ‘Please don’t’: Biologists irked after man plucks baby seal onto boat off Vancouver Island

Tofino,uclueletWhales

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

COVID-19: Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation asks Tofino businesses for support as emergency funding runs dry

“We need to pay for the work they do. It’s such important work.”

DFO says the five aggrieved B.C First Nations were consulted on fisheries plan

Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations calls response ‘a sham,’ adding DFO never incorporates their views

Three active COVID-19 cases on Vancouver Island

Since July 24, Central island has had five new cases, North one, South none

Canada can lead the way to save sharks from extinction, says fisheries expert

“Combined with fishing extraction numbers, sharks experience huge losses in the environment.”

Five Vancouver Island First Nations call out Canada for ‘discriminatory’ food fish practices

West Coast nations say government ignoring court-won right to chinook and coho

B.C. records new COVID-19 death, 85 more cases; Horgan calls on celebrity help

This brings the total number of active confirmed cases to 531 across the province

Horvat scores 2 as Vancouver Canucks beat Blues 5-2 in NHL playoff opener

Game 2 in best-of-seven series goes Friday night

Old-growth forest defenders in Campbell River call for B.C. forest minister’s resignation

Protestors outside North Island MLA’s office ask government to stop old-growth logging

Teachers to get 2 extra days to prepare for students’ return, now set for Sept. 10

Students will first start with orientation and learn rules of COVID-19 classroom policies

High-volume littering at Cape Scott draws ire from hiking groups

Popular Vancouver Island hiking spot not closing, but frustration about crowding grows

SFU to drop ‘Clan’ varsity team name

The ‘Clan’ name is shortened from ‘Clansmen,’ and was introduced roughly 55 years ago

New Tory leader must build a strong team in Commons and for the campaign: Scheer

Scheer marked his final day in the House of Commons today as leader of the Opposition

B.C. to hire 500 more COVID-19 contact tracers ahead of fall

Contract tracers add an ‘extra layer’ in the fight against the novel coronavirus

More than $800,000 in suspected cocaine seized from ship near Victoria

RCMP Dive Team suspects more narcotics had been stored below ship’s waterline

Most Read