Here's Why Montreal's Whale Couldn't Be Saved
The city's whale epic ended sadly on Tuesday morning when the animal was spotted stranded near Varennes, across the river from the northern tip of Montreal Island. On Wednesday morning, marine wildlife experts were on-site to move its carcass. Specialists will now perform a necropsy to determine the cause of death for Montreal's whale.
This article contains graphic content that might not be suitable for some readers, including an image of a whale carcass.
It was early in the morning of June 9 that a marine pilot posted a video on Facebook showing what appeared to be the lifeless animal floating in the river.
The humpback whale, which could normally be found in the saltwater of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, had ventured into the port of Montreal on May 30 after making an unprecedented journey upstream.
After several days of swimming and jumping for the pleasure of curious Montrealers, it disappeared from view until the pilot's grim discovery.
Narcity spoke with Marie-Ève Muller, Director of Communications at the Groupe de recherche et d’éducation sur les mammifères marins (GREMM), to find out what will happen with the carcass, why the whale could not be saved, and whether we'll ever know why it came to Montreal.
Experts are currently on site to inspect the whale's carcass. What are the next steps?
They're going to do a necropsy to find out more details [about the cause of death] and whether there was an underlying disease.
We don't know exactly where or when, but we need to find a place to bring it ashore. It's a huge challenge to keep it from becoming a public nuisance.
A carcass smells strong and this is an urban environment, so we need to find a place to do this safely for the team in times of pandemic.
What will your colleagues examine during the necropsy?
First there will be a macroscopic examination, which gives us the first information. Then there will be microscopic examinations, a tissue analysis, a blood analysis, which will help answer questions about parasites and diseases. That takes several months.
Will we be able to find out why the whale ventured so far from its habitat?
It may give leads, it may not. It's really hard to say since we can't read whales' brains.
Why was there no whale rescue operation to avoid a situation like this one?
It's important to know that moving a whale doesn't just happen. Some people suggested putting a leash on the whale — they don't know what a 9.5-metre marine animal weighing several tonnes can do!
There are safety issues for the team that would have had to intervene. Playing sounds underwater, in some cases elsewhere in the world, resulted in the animal being so frightened or angry that it ran aground, so in the end, the animal died. There are always risks involved.
It's really hard, I understand people being disappointed. But the decisions were made in consultation with experts from around the world. There was really a lot of work that wasn't always visible to the general public.
If we can find a positive point in this story, for many Montrealers, it's a first encounter with the marine environment, it made them aware of the presence of whales in the St. Lawrence.
It's possible to follow the upcoming developments from the necropsy on the Baleines en direct Twitter account.
This article was originally published in French on Narcity Québec.