Blue whale rare learning opportunity for veterinary students


Published on May 13, 2017

Workers have a beached blue whale in East Berlin stripped right down to the bones today.

©The Advance

EAST BERLIN - Dr. Pierre Yves Daoust, a marine animal biologist with the Atlantic Veterinary College in Charlottetown, has seen many marine animals in his day. 

But he’s only seen a blue whale up close and personal twice.

Volunteers work to remove the vertebrae of an endangered blue whale which washed up in East Berlin last week. Researchers consider this a rare learning opportunity.
The Advance

This, the second time, is at a necropsy taking place in East Berlin, Nova Scotia, where the juvenile female blue whale washed up after perishing off Newfoundland about two months ago.

Dr. Daoust says the necropsy hasn’t revealed the cause of death, but because the whale had been dead so long, they don’t expect to find it.

But, he says it is important to do the necropsy anyway.

“Because it is a species at risk, so whatever we can learn from it, for example just what we are doing now, there are so many logical issues that we have to remind ourselves of and it’s a good opportunity to build up capacity.”

Dr. Daoust brought three students from the Atlantic Veterinary  College, and a brand new wildlife pathologist.

“She was from the start interested in marine mammals so this is a tremendous opportunity, again to learn the logistics of dealing with heavy equipment, huge animals, the time and effort required..”

He says for his students, he believes this will be something they will always remember, and may never have the opportunity to see again.

On the second day of the necropsy, volunteers had the whale peeled down to the bones. They were trying to exhume the skeleton so it could be disarticulated, and put back together again to go on display.

Liam Shea was one of Dr. Daoust’s students, helping to take the whale apart. He’s studying veterinary medicine at the AVC.

“It’s incredible, you don’t get to see this ever, really,” he says.

“There’s only about 200 blue whales in the North Atlantic so this is likely a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

He says the work is “pretty disgusting” but fascinating at the same time.

“Anatomically whales are very unique and I’m learning things as I cut through the rotting flesh.”

Shea says he may choose to dabble in marine animal science in the future as a result of the experience.

“No, it’s not something you’d want to miss.”

The skeleton will first be shipped to the Truro Agricultural College, and if it’s in good enough shape, eventually to Dalhousie University.