Three fin whales have been found dead on a beach near Bella Bella on the central coast of B.C.
The dead whales were spotted by a helicopter pilot flying over Bird Point, northwest of Bella Bella, who then notified Fishers and Oceans Canada (DFO) on Saturday.
Paul Cottrell, Pacific Marine Mammal Coordinator with the DFO, assessed the whales and says there does not appear to be any obvious cause of death.
“It is very rare and odd that you get three large whales together in one small area,” says Cottrell. “We want to know why it happened, whether it is a natural event, killer whale predation or something else.”
Cottrell says, to his knowledge, it has never happened in B.C. before, which is a source for concern.
The fin whales are listed as threatened under the Species At Risk Act, meaning it is illegal to harm or disturb them. They are filter feeders and are the second-largest animal on the planet after blue whales.
“Any time you get three animals that wash up and die together and it is a threatened species, we are going to work hard to figure out what happened,” he says.
A necropsy was conducted on Tuesday and results are expected in several weeks.
The researchers also took stomach tissue samples to see what the whales ate prior to their death to determine if there was a natural biotoxin they may have ingested.
Cottrell says they estimate that the animals were dead for at least seven days before the necropsy was performed.
“Given the location and where they ended up, all close together, we are thinking that the animals likely live stranded and died there together,” says Cottrell. “The odds of the animals dying out in the ocean and floating all together into that small cove are pretty small. But we are still looking at everything at this point.”
The three dead animals were all male and juvenile fin whales.
Cottrell says while there have been sightings of fin whales close to Bella Bella before, these animals are not well studied, and it is hard to tell if the three whales were travelling as a family before they died.
Cottrell says they encourage anyone who spots a dead marine animal or an animal in distress, to call their hotline at 1-800-465-4336 and report the sighting.