First of two blue whales being defleshed in Woody Point

Gary Kean
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The team from the Royal Ontario Museum cut apart the whale.

There may not be any plans at the moment to have one of two blue whale skeletons returned to western Newfoundland, but the Royal Ontario Museum says there is a third whale out there that could possibly be salvaged.

The museum, though, has no plans itself to process that third whale, which was apparently last seen floating somewhere north of Rocky Harbour.

On Thursday morning, staff from the museum and a handful of local residents hired to help out managed to haul one whale off the beach at Trout River. It was towed by fishing vessel to nearby Woody Point, where it will be stripped of its flesh.

The bones will then be strategically disassembled and transported by trailer back to Ontario for further processing.

The same process, except towing it to Woody Point, will then take place with a second whale beached in Rocky Harbour.

“We’ll have to do this one first, then we’ll see how we’ll approach the one in Rocky Harbour,” Mark Engstrom, the Royal Ontario Museum’s deputy director of collections and research, said in a phone interview from Woody Point after the whale had been pulled back ashore there.

The whale in Rocky Harbour should be more accessible than the one in Trout River was and likely won’t have to be moved in order to clean the meat off it.

Engstrom said it should take five days to remove the flesh and guts from the first whale. The work is being carried out by a crew of six local residents temporarily hired by the museum.

They will use large knives to make incisions and pull the strips of flesh off the carcass. Engstrom is hoping to get some heavy equipment in to help make the process of pulling off the flesh a little easier.

The museum has a permit to haul away the discarded flesh to a local landfill, where it will be covered. Tissue samples will be taken from the whale’s major organs for DNA and other scientific testing.

Engstrom said the bones will be buried with soil and manure to let nature remove the remaining flesh once those parts are back in Ontario. The porous bones will then require further processing to remove all of the oil contained in them.

It will be about three years before all of that can take place.

Engstrom would like to see the whales displayed eventually, but doesn’t know if that will happen, let alone if it will be back in western Newfoundland.

“We’ve been talking to all three towns involved in terms of what we might be able to bring back in terms of educational materials about these whales that have washed up,” he said. “We won’t be able to bring the whole whale back to the east (for display). It’s just an incredibly expensive process to mount one.”

Engstrom said it’s possible the bones of these whales may just end up in the museum’s research collection and never get mounted.

“We just don’t have the funding to do it,” he said.

Local people could take on retrieving the third whale, if they wanted to, he commented.

“If they want one, some people here will be trained now on how to deflesh one,” said Engstrom. “If they want to undertake to do the third one, that’s a possibility.”

Organizations: Royal Ontario Museum

Geographic location: Woody Point, Newfoundland, Rocky Harbour Trout River Ontario

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