A humpback whale that was last seen three decades ago has been found alive, but the bittersweet discovery ended in heartbreak. The massive creature, measuring between 45 and 56 feet in length and weighing at least 35 tons, washed ashore on Sable Island National Park Reserve in the Northern Atlantic earlier this month. The incident was reported on November 2 by the Marine Animal Response Society, a Nova Scotia-based charity dedicated to marine animal conservation.
Unfortunately, due to the dangerous surf conditions and the remote location of the beach, there was very little that could be done to help the stranded whale. Veterinary partners from the Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative and the Atlantic Veterinary College were unable to reach the isolated area to provide assistance or perform a humane euthanasia. The Marine Animal Response Society expressed their heartbreak over the situation, noting that certain cases involving live animals are incredibly challenging to handle due to safety concerns, logistics, and the sheer size of the animal.
Sable Island National Park Reserve is managed by Parks Canada, the Canadian government agency responsible for the country’s national parks and protected areas. Located about 110 miles southeast of mainland Nova Scotia, the island is known for its wild horses and colonies of sea lions. Visitors can request permission from Parks Canada to visit the island during specific months of the year. The island is accessible by air or sea, but delays and cancellations are common due to weather conditions.
While the beached humpback whale unfortunately passed away a few days after washing ashore, officials from Parks Canada were able to photograph the underside of its tail while it was still alive. This photograph allowed researchers to confirm that the whale was the same humpback that was originally seen in 1982 off the coast of the Dominican Republic. By examining the distinctive markings on the tail, known as flukes, researchers from Massachusetts’ Center for Coastal Studies and Maine’s Allied Whale at the College of the Atlantic determined that the humpback was at least 43 years old. The whale had not been sighted since the early 1990s, leaving its whereabouts and activities during the intervening decades a mystery.
While the exact cause of the whale’s death remains unknown, the inability to perform a necropsy on Sable Island prevented officials from determining the cause of the stranding. However, there were no visible signs of injury or trauma on the whale. Large whale strandings are often challenging and dangerous, making it difficult to determine the cause of death or identify individuals. Nevertheless, the photographic evidence collected will be crucial for future long-term population studies of humpback whales in the North Atlantic.
As we reflect on this discovery, we can only wonder about the incredible journey this humpback whale undertook during the past 30 years. The story of its elusive existence serves as a reminder of the mysteries that lie beneath the surface of our vast oceans. Although the outcome may not have been what we hoped for, this incident highlights the ongoing importance of marine animal conservation and the need to protect and understand these majestic creatures.