How crews will move massive blue whale carcasses rotting in Newfoundland to Ontario
Published Friday, May 2, 2014 11:45AM EDT
Last Updated Friday, May 2, 2014 12:24PM EDT
The massive blue whale carcasses that are currently rotting along the shores of two small Newfoundland towns may soon have a new home – about 2,500 kilometres away in Ontario.
Gail Shea, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and Janet Carding, Director and CEO of the Royal Ontario Museum, announced Thursday they will be teaming up to move the two North Atlantic blue whale skeletons.
But moving the largest mammal in the world is no small task.
At more than 25 metres long and more than 60 tons, the massive whale has been attracting tourists to the small town of Trout River in Western Newfoundland since it washed ashore last Friday.
“People are coming in from all over to look and have pictures taken with the whale,” town clerk Emily Butler told Kevin Newman Live earlier this week. “Some people are getting on top of the whale carcass, but we definitely don’t recommend that.”
As you can imagine, the whale’s rotting flesh reeks, and residents and business owners have been wondering how it would be removed. Small towns like Trout River don’t necessarily have the money to remove a giant whale.
But now a plan is in place. Dr. Mark Engstrom, deputy director of collections and research at the Royal Ontario Museum, will be heading to Trout River next week to lead a team from the museum that will remove the whales. The museum will preserve the skeletons and tissue samples for scientific research. It’s not Engstrom’s first time at this. He helped a team in B.C. remove a killer whale a few months ago.
“They are really rare, there are only about 250 left in the North Atlantic…the nine blue whales that died are a big dent in the overall population.” said Engstrom. “I want to see they are preserved for research.”
Engstrom said he is already speaking with people in Trout River and once he arrives the first thing they will have to do is check out the scene and see if they can get in the equipment and machines needed.
“We’ll flense the whales (a process of removing skin and blubber) like they did on old whaling ships. Then we’ll disarticulate the skeleton so we can move it in sections and load it into containers and drive it back from Newfoundland,” he said. The skin, blubber and other organic matter will be buried in a landfill.
As for the stench, Engstrom said that surprisingly you stop noticing the smell after about an hour of working on the carcass, but your family notices the smell on you for a month. And that even after you throw out all of the clothes you wore while working.
The biggest piece will be the skull, which will be at least 10 metres long. When asked if that will fit into one container, Engstrom simply said: “It better.”
Once the carcass is in Ontario, Engstrom is likely going to take it to a warehouse in Trent.
“The biggest problem is the size and that the bones are porous and oily,” he said. “You have to get the flesh off the bones and get the oil out.”
To do that they will bury the pieces in a pile of soil and manure so the flesh will decompose exposing the bones. The part of the process could take a year.
“Once you get the bones back it’s a slow process,” Engstrom said.
As for what happens after that, the skeletons will be accessible to the global research community. Engstom said he would one day like to do an exhibit on whales at the museum highlighting their conservation and plight, but that funding currently isn’t in place.