A whale for the taking

Brian Jones
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With Newfoundland’s (and Labrador’s) long history of giveaways, it shouldn’t be surprising that Ontarians arrived this week to take possession of two dead blue whales that washed ashore on the province’s west coast.

The rare animals’ remains will eventually be taken to the Royal Ontario Museum.

Typical of the dearth of quality leadership in this province, not a peep of protest emanated from the government as this massive giveaway progressed.

Most of the public discussion about the beached whales — including a sperm whale — has been about the potential stench as they decompose and, of course, the possibility that the buildup of gasses in the carcasses might cause them to explode, although burst would be a more accurate word.

The eagerness to get rid of the dead blue whales is baffling.

The animals are extremely rare, living or dead.

They are an endangered species. According to the University of British Columbia’s website, there are only 21 blue whale skeletons on display worldwide, one of which is at UBC’s Beaty Biodiversity Museum.

The UBC blue whale skeleton made national headlines in 2008, when the carcass was dug up on a P.E.I. beach, where it had been buried in 1987.

It was stripped of remaining flesh and shipped to Vancouver.

The two blue whales beached in western Newfoundland will be stripped of their flesh and shipped to Toronto.

Something about this situation stinks, and it involves more than offensive odours.

Few specimens

It is astounding that absolutely no effort was made to keep at least one blue whale skeleton — and preferably both — in this province.

There are only two blue whale skeletons on display in Canada — the one noted above at UBC, and one at the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa.

The latter is from a blue whale that beached in Codroy, N.L., in 1975, according to the museum’s website.

Keeping the blue whale specimens in the province is possible, were there any desire to do so.

The municipalities of Trout River and Rocky Harbour — where the carcasses are located — have jurisdiction over their disposal.

The provincial government could offer to assume all costs and take possession of the whales.

In a recent news report, an official from the Royal Ontario Museum said it would cost “tens of thousands of dollars” to render the carcasses into skeletons.

If the provincial government had any foresight and imagination — although plenty of evidence suggests it lacks both — it would make plans to display one blue whale skeleton at The Rooms in St. John’s and the other in the vicinity of Rocky Harbour or Gros Morne National Park.

Never mind the tourism potential. Residents of this province — with its much-touted seafaring history and maritime culture — deserve no less.

Anyone who objected to the cost of such a venture could be directed to read other headlines from this week.

In the House of Assembly, there was a bit of arguing over the $10 million the provincial government has poured into a privately owned wood-pellet plant in Roddickton, which has yet to produce any wood pellets.

Predictably, the government describes this expenditure as an “investment,” although other words come to mind, such as boondoggle and sinkhole.

The deaths of nine blue whales this spring in the ice of the Gulf of St. Lawrence were a biological tragedy.

Their bodies should not be treated as mere flotsam to be gotten rid of.

Whoever has the authority should tell the Royal Ontario Museum that the deal is off.

After all, the provincial government showed this week it is willing to rip up contracts.

Brian Jones is a desk editor at

The Telegram. He can be reached

at bjones@thetelegram.com

Organizations: University of British Columbia, Royal Ontario Museum, Canadian Museum of Nature The Rooms The Telegram

Geographic location: Rocky Harbour, P.E.I., Vancouver.The Newfoundland Canada Ottawa Codroy Trout River Roddickton

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Recent comments

  • sc
    May 09, 2014 - 14:47

    Oh for crying out loud! When will people here stop whinging about how everyone else is taking advantage of them and how hard done by they are. This anger directed at everyone in the rest of Canada is getting boring. Instead of welcoming the fact that an institution with an international reputation has agreed to take and display the whale for everyone to see, Jones sees this as yet another slight directed at people in this province. Is Jones suggesting that folks at the Rooms or in Rocky Harbour have the same level of expertise as those at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) to preserve and display the whale properly? Where is the whale likely to get the most attention, the ROM or St. John's or Rocky Harbour or Buddy's garage? On a positive note, I would like to thank Mr. Jones for once again reminding me why I don't subscribe to the The Telegram and this has been my only visit to this website in a month.

  • david
    May 09, 2014 - 11:34

    Why is Newfoundland so overrun with myopic, self-unaware, small-minded stupidity ? It really is a true enigma.

  • Hawk
    May 09, 2014 - 11:23

    There isn't anyone in Government with a vision for the fishery or tourism in this province. The only thing I see government good for is to bring in regulations and red tape to stop growth.These whale would have been a great tourist draw if cleaned and presented for view. If one man David Boyd of Twillingate could have stripped and cleaned and presented for view at his museum a big 60 foot whale, certainly a government with vision could have done something with this gift.

    • a business man
      May 09, 2014 - 13:47

      Correct. There isn't anyone in Government with a vision for the fishery or tourism in this province, and Government is elected democratically. It therefore follows, in my opinon, that the majority of the voters do not care about the fishery or tourism. I am one of those voters, and I am happy that the whales are going to the ROM. I am a Newfoundland citizen and voter, and Toronto is far more important to me than Newfoundland is, so I am happy that no one in the Government opposed the ROM's taking of the whales.

  • Maurice E. Adams
    May 09, 2014 - 10:36

    Excellent article. Perhaps the next time Alberta finds a dinosaur skeleton, they will offer it to our province --- after all, we are the experts in the area of dinosaur hydro electric projects and head-in-the-sand vision.

  • Lena
    May 09, 2014 - 09:11

    Talk about a "dog in the manger" attitude! The ROM is prepared to spend what it takes to preserve the skeletons, and has the resources to do so. Instead of whining about someone else getting them, we should be celebrating the fact that they will be used for scientific purposes and that many more people will have the opportunity to see them. I often agree with Mr. Jones, but this case is an exception; let the skeletons be displayed by an organization that has the highly trained personnel necessary to make that display happen.