On Thursday, a team from the Royal Ontario Museum began the process of recovering one of the two blue whale carcasses that washed up on the coast of Newfoundland last month. The whales — one found in Trout River and another in Rocky Harbour — died after getting caught in heavy ice.
The Trout River whale, which measured more the 700 feet in length, was towed up the coast to Woody Point where biologists are currently going to work on it. The goal is to preserve the bones and collect tissue samples that can be used for research.
Don Bradshaw, a reporter from Canadian new agency NTV who has been following the story, posted some incredible pictures of the recovery process earlier this morning on Twitter.
Before the whale skeleton can be moved to the museum, scientists must strip away the skin, blubber, and skeletal muscles, a messy process that takes about a week, according to CTV News.
“You go ahead and cleanse the whale, so you remove the blubber and the skin,” museum deputy director Mark D. Engstrom told CBC News. “And then you remove the the skeletal muscle, and the viscera … and then you’re left with the skeleton which you disarticulate and put into a container and drive it away.”
The team posted a photo as they started to chop up the whale.
There are plans to recover the whale carcass beached in the nearby town of Rocky Harbour once preparations for the Trout River whale are complete.
The Trout River whale gained international media attention after the creature became massively bloated and threatened to explode. That never happened and the whale — now very deflated and getting very stinky — remained in the same spot for the past several weeks.
Jacqueline Smith from the Royal Museum arrived in Trout River on Wednesday and described her first impressions of the blue whale in a blog post.
“[The whale] is heavily deflated and the seagulls have begun to pick at the decaying bits underneath the body,” Smith wrote. “Large chunks have been carved out of the sides, apparently to feed some local huskies, and the taste of what can only be described as a bitter sourness stink is coming from a large wound on the side. Bare cartilage and bone are showing from where someone has managed to chop one off one of the flippers.”
Engstrom and the museum’s assistant curator of mammalogy discussed the recovery efforts in a Google Hangout on Thursday morning. You can watch a recording below.
The whales are two of at least nine blue whales that were killed by severe ice conditions in the North Atlantic this winter, the museum said.
In a statement, Engstrom said the loss represents up to 5% the species, which is listed as endangered.
“This is an important opportunity to further our understanding of these magnificent animals,” he said, “and provide an invaluable resource for Canadian science and education now and in the future.”