When it comes to the fate of a blue whale carcass beached in Trout River, Mayor Paul Matthews says first thing’s first, and that is, removing the whale before the town faces a health crisis.
Jon Joy of Whale Release and Strandings takes baleen samples from a fresh bowhead whale carcass off Cape Bonavista on Friday. — Photo courtesy of Brenda Taylor
During the past week there has been much debate about whether the carcass should be removed by the Royal Ontario Museum or whether the skeleton — or the skeleton of another dead whale in Rocky Harbour — should be left in the area as part of a scientific and tourist exhibit.
The mayor said his council met Friday where it was decided the assistance offered by the museum is the best solution, particularly since there has been no support offered by either the federal or provincial governments.
“Our primary concern was getting rid of the animal before it became an absolute health hazard,” Matthews said Sunday by phone from Arviat, Nunavut. “Basically until (the museum) came on board, we were told it’s our problem and the government has no role in it.
“We don’t have any resources and we have no hope of getting any from the federal or provincial governments.”
Matthews said Mark Engstrom of the Royal Ontario Museum, along with his research team, will be in Trout River early this week to do preliminary samples on the carcass.
He said from talking with Engstrom, he’s learned the team will separate the decomposing flesh from the whale before doing initial treatment.
The treatment will allow the skeleton to be removed from the beach in pieces.
“There’s about a one- to two-year process of cleaning and preservation of the bones for the future,” he said. “Our landfill has been closed since last August, so it’s to be decided what to do with the 60-tonnes of rotting, decomposing flesh.”
He said the town is in discussions with the museum about fostering an ongoing relationship which could include some sort of permanent display.
While he isn’t opposed to efforts from those in the community looking to keep the skeleton in the area, Matthews said the situation required an immediate solution.
“I understand fully the frustration of local people, but as a council we have to look after the best interests of the town without exception,” he said.
Trout River resident Jenny Parsons is among those in the community lobbying for the whale bones to remain in the region.
The owner of the Seaside Restaurant in Trout River said while she understands council couldn’t take on such a project alone, she remains hopeful the museum will find a suitable, local home for the rare whale bones or at least an educational exhibit.
“We’re going to keep the pressure on to get a blue whale skeleton,” Parsons said. “Not to leave it on the beach, or in my backyard or your front yard, but I hope somehow we can partner with them.”
She said after initial concerns regarding the health hazards of the rotting, 81-foot carcass, many in the town are now realizing the long-term importance of the whale washing ashore in Trout River.
“Once people settled down and saw the value and significance of this rare, magnificent creature people started to realize how wonderful that would be on the waterfront,”she said.