HARBOURVILLE – A humpback whale carcass has washed up along the shoreline of a small community near Harbourville.
The carcass remains on a beach near Donnellan's Brook, off Shore Road, where beach access has allowed dozens of people to walk over and see the dead whale for themselves.
The Marine Animal Response Society (MARS) has confirmed the carcass appears to be a juveline or almost fully-grown adult humpback whale, with no wounds or other trauma visible in its current position.
Even with rising tides bringing more water around the carcass, its mouth, fins and tail remained visible at 10 a.m. on March 19.
High winds and rough waters mean the carcass is being pushed further down the beach from where it was first spotted. Duncan Karsten, who was among the first people to see the whale after it was spotted the morning of March 18, estimates it has already moved over 200 feet.
MARS response coordinator Andrew Reid said the society is currently consulting with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans on how best to address the situation and examine the carcass through conducting a necropsy.
"We're working towards a response of some kind. It's difficult at this point, because the tides are extreme and accessing the beach area could be hard," he said.
"The necropsy equipment is extremely heavy, so that's a concern, and we have to determine if veterinary pathologists are available."
Reid said while he cannot say for sure, the whale's presence in the Bay of Fundy was not especially concerning, and that it had most likely followed fish that were swimming into the area.
This point was confirmed by MARS director Tonya Wimmer, who said natural fish cycles - when numbers of fish increase in certain waters - mean humpback whales can appear in the bay, even during winter months.
One fact that is concerning for both Wimmer and Reid is, considering these facts, how thin the carcass appears in the photos.
"This is a fresh-looking carcass, and hasn't yet been damaged. It's very thin, yet was found in productive, fish-filled waters. The question, now, is why is it so thin," said Wimmer.
Without a detailed exam, they aren't yet able to confirm what factors lead to the whale's death.
Reid said he hopes to have a team of volunteers at the site either later this evening or early morning March 20 to assess the situation before the ocean causes more damage or moves the carcass.
He said submissions of photos and information on the carcass' location are helpful over the next few days, in case it does change locations.
"We want to get in as soon as possible to assess this situation, but with waves battering the carcass and even moving it, getting in there as soon as possible is vital," he said.
"Once the body moves, it can be very hard to find again."
Karsten lives on Shore Road near the beach access area and said seeing the massive animal wash up was a sad occasion. He was among the first people to see the carcass March 18, and ventured down to the beach again March 19 to see what further damage the rough surf may have caused to the carcass.
"It's still very well intact, you can tell it hasn't been deceased for long. This is a once-in-a-lifetime sighting," he said.
He recalled seeing at least one humpback whale breaching in the waters near Harbourville just this past summer, a rare sighting since humpback whale sightings rarely occur at the end of the Bay of Fundy and leading into the Minas Basin.
"It's hard to say whether this is the same whale, but I do know that sighting was a very rare one, so it makes you wonder," he said
Renee Forsythe, whose family owns a cottage in Baxter's Harbour, was also at the beach March 19.
She regularly walks along the coastline and beach areas, and said that while she's seen many seals and porpoises, she has never seen a whale, alive or dead.
She was among several people who submitted information to a Brier Island whale watching company, wondering whether the whale was one who had been spotted on whale watching trips.
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"In forty years, my family has never once seen a whale in this area. We know they don't come up here, since the bay narrows once the basin starts and the currents change, so this is concerning," she said.
DFO spokesperson Debbie Buott-Matheson has issued the following statement from the department on the situation: “DFO is aware of the situation. Conservation and Protection officers will be on site to take measurements and photos which will be provided to the Marine Animal Response Society (MARS). We will be determining if a necropsy is required once we have more details.”