Beached minke whale offers insight to wildlife pathologist

By Melissa Heald
Oct. 31, 2014

Pierre Daoust saw an opportunity when he received the call saying there was a dead whale onshore.
The wildlife pathologist at the Atlantic Veterinary College took the remains of a recent minke whale discovered on Oct. 28 in eastern P.E.I. to learn more about the mammals.
Daoust, a member of the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative, is working on guidelines on how to humanely euthanize these animals when they become stranded and there is no other option.
“It’s that, or let them suffer,” he said.
So he saw a chance to do some research when Chuck Gallison of P.E.I.’s Forests, Fish and Wildlife called about a dead whale washing up on the shores of Pownal Bay in Cherry Valley.
It’s not uncommon for whales and other marine life to wash up in this area, said Gallison.
“They die out in the strait, then get locked into the bay and the current, the tide and the wind wash them ashore.”
He and his team were able to visit the whale Oct.30. It was young, about a year old, said Daoust.
They were not able to determine why it died because of the decomposition of the body, but since it was a young animal it’s possible it got separated from its group, said Daoust.
Young whales are dependent on their group and it could have made a navigation mistake and became lost, he said
“The bay doesn’t have much of an opening, so it would have been very difficult for it to get out.”
It’s not uncommon for whales to wash ashore and sometimes they are still alive, he said. If they can’t be pushed back into the water they can still live for a couple of days.
What can happen, especially during the summer months, is a whale’s skin can start to dry up and peel off, a method know as slough, said Daoust. It’s like a severe sunburn and it’s extremely painful for the whale.
But now, thanks to the minke whale, he feels a lot more confident about being better prepared to humanely euthanize a stranded whale in the future, said Daoust.
“We learned a lot.”