Rocky Harbour not sure what backup plan is if museum doesn’t want whale

Gary Kean
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Mark Engstrom of the Royal Ontario Museum is seen during the third day of working on retrieving the skeleton of the blue whale in Woody Point.

The temperatures in Rocky Harbour are expected to reach the teens today and the long-term forecast is calling for it to stay that warm for the rest of May.

As if the need to get the dead blue whale away from the town’s shoreline wasn’t already urgent enough, those warm temperatures are sure to speed up the rate of decomposition.

The odour emanating from the blue whale that washed ashore a couple of weeks ago was still not deterrent enough to keep people away from taking relatively close-up photos Thursday. That is bound to change with accelerated decay.

Mayor Walter Nicolle is eager to find out, hopefully later today, if the Royal Ontario Museum is going to be coming to dissect the roughly 80-tonne beast’s remains. The museum’s plan to extricate the skeletons of the two beached blue whales in the area hit a snag when the costs of processing the first whale went over budget.

The museum is now going over its finances to see if it can afford to do the second whale.

Nicolle said he will have to call a meeting of his town council to discuss what to do if the whale isn’t taken by the Royal Ontario Museum.

“We didn’t really go any farther with it because we totally expected they would have had the whale gone by now,” Nicolle said of the lack of a contingency plan.

“There will be a lot of restrictions on us if we have to go move it. We’ll have to work with the government departments and they will have to work with us to get it out of here.”

The removal of the whale is the municipality’s responsibility, but it still requires a permit from DFO because blue whales are an endangered species protected under the Species at Risk Act.

In fact, there has been a 24-hour security presence at the site to make sure nobody does anything illegal with the whale. The whale in Woody Point had a fin sawed off prior to being removed from its original beaching spot in Trout River.

Nicolle said the money spent on security could have been better used going towards the cost of moving it away from town or having it dissected.

As the Royal Ontario Museum tries to figure out if it can afford to process another whale, Nicolle said the town itself has also put out feelers to see if anyone can help fund the project. There had been no response to those requests for help as of Thursday.

There had been a lot of talk about the area trying to get one of the whale skeletons returned for display as a tourist attraction. Nicolle is more concerned with getting it out of town.

“It’s to the point now where we just got to get it out of here,” he said. “If we don’t get it out of here, we won’t have any tourism this summer because no one will want to stay in town.”

Mark Engstrom of the Royal Ontario Museum had taken some time in the midst of cutting up the whale in Woody Point this past week to go to Rocky Harbour and meet with town officials. He went back to Toronto Wednesday night and is expected to make a decision today if he will be coming back to process the Rocky Harbour whale.

Most of the rest of the museum crew is still in Woody Point, working on the logistics of securing a tractor trailer big enough to fit that whale’s massive cranium — another unexpected cost. The crew is also waiting on word from Engstrom about whether they will be staying and heading across Bonne Bay to Rocky Harbour.

Like the town, Engstrom isn’t sure how the whale will be dealt with if its skeleton isn’t salvaged.

“I think they have limited options,” Engstrom said Thursday. “They can’t just tow it out to sea because it is a navigational hazard. We’ll have to talk to them about what we could do, but we haven’t reached that point yet.”

One option is to tow it to a remote beach and allow nature to decompose the whale away from a populated area.

Engstrom is hoping the cost of processing the second whale, if it can be done, would be lower than the first. He can’t say that for sure.

“There is never a guarantee,” he said. “I also expected the first whale’s costs to be lower than they turned out to be in the end. It depends on what kind of snags we hit.”

He wouldn’t say how much it cost to do the first whale, other than that it was in the “tens of thousands” of dollars.

Engstrom said he is not looking outside the Royal Ontario Museum for the funding required to do the whale in Rocky Harbour.

Organizations: Risk Act.The Royal Ontario Museum, Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Rocky harbour.The museum

Geographic location: Rocky Harbour, Woody Point, Trout River Western Star

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Recent comments

  • david
    May 15, 2014 - 14:12

    Stan and Jenny Parsons were spokespeople for the "Newfoundlanders who can't accept yes for an answer" society when they thought the whales were going...they even got on BBC World News and expressed deep regret that the local community wasn't taking advantage of the "opportunity" presented by the whales. Surely, given this wonderful "second chance", they'll turn this into the tourism windfall they envisioned......bwa ha ha ha ha! Much more likely: sit there and enjoy the stink, you whiney tools.

  • wayne Osmond
    May 15, 2014 - 14:09

    Put it up for Sale. Sure it's not allowed and then maybe the Govt. will come along and confiscate it. Problem solved.