Friday, 16 June 2017

The Whale in Outer Cove

Many of you have probably seen on the news, or in person, the whale that washed up on Outer Cove Beach. It may not seem like the sort of thing that a museum would be interested in, but it is part of our culture, and is certainly a historic event, so why not record it while it happens.

The whale first washed up on Outer Cove Beach on May 22, 2017. Photo by Michelle Hickey, 2017.

Logy Bay-Middle Cove-Outer Cove is a community linked to the water and the land. There is a rich history of fishing and farming in this area, which continues on to today. If you live on the North-East Avalon, where do you first think to go when the capelin come in but Middle Cove Beach. Over the spring, many people flocked to Marine Drive to see the pack ice and the icebergs, and in the summer, whales can often be seen off the coast.

Ice on Middle Cove Beach. Photo by Lisa M. Daly, 2017

This spring also brought an unusual sight to Outer Cove: a dead whale. According to experts, the whale had been dead for some time before it washed onto the beach, and because of that, determining a cause of death would be difficult. When the whale washed up, researchers went to the beach to collect data about the creatures while others flocked to the beach to see the humpback close-up, and to take pictures. A memorial marker was also erected at the beach in honor of the whale.

Marker erected at the beach to honour the humpback whale. Photo by Michelle Hickey, 2017.

While a dead humpback whale brought people to Outer Cove, it was a problem for the community as a whole. A large whale carcass is not something easy to remove, and the town struggled to figure out how to dispose of the whale. One option given was to bury it, but given that most residents use wells, that would be unsafe. Another option often given on social media was to blow it up, but that has been tried before with disgusting results (a youtube search will give some examples but be warned, they can be graphic). At one point, the whale washed off of the beach, but stayed close enough to be a hazard and still had to be removed.
The whale after it had washed off of the beach, but still remained close to shore. Photo by Michelle Hickey, 2017.
Finally. 17 days after the humpback first washed up, actions were taken to remove the carcass.

The morning of June 7, 2017, a Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) gave the official go ahead for DFO and the Canadian Coast Guard to launch two fast rescue craft (FRC), which launched from Flatrock, and a fishery patrol zodiac, launched St. John's. At this point, the whale was no longer on the beach, but against the rocks on the Doran's Lane side of the beach. At about 8:45 am the FRC vessels and the zodiac arrived at Outer Cove Beach. On shore there was a Caterpillar 336 (37 ton) excavator from J3 Construction. Coast Guard and DFO made numerous attempts to hook the whale to move it out to the water and away from the rocks. By 10am, the whale was moved to about thirty feet from shore.
The whale once it was moved onto the beach. Photo by Paddy Dyer, 2017.

Staff onshore unpackaged a net and spread it out on the beach. The DFO officer in charge requested that the excavator gently move the whale into position so that the net could be pulled under the whale once the net ropes were attached to the FRCs. Once this was done, the FRCs and zodiac began to pull the whale to deeper water. Offshore personnel attempted to wrap the netting around the whale, but by 11:15am were unsuccessful because there was not enough weight on the outside of the net to allow it to sink under the whale. The net was brought back onshore and weights were added to one end and cork to the other. In the meantime, the FRCs returned to St. John's Harbour for minor repairs and refueling.
The whale being moved up the beach. Photo by Paddy Dyer, 217.

At around 2pm, the FRCs were back and again attempted to pull the net under the whale. By about 4pm they were successful, and began pushing the whale back to shore. By about 5pm,. the whale was back to the shore. Earlier in the day, a makeshift slipway had been built to make it easier to get the whale back onto the beach. Bishop's Crane, a 35 ton crane, was already set up on the beach parking area and the crane straps were attached to the netting. The excavator was used to pull the whale to the top of the beach so that it could be reached by the crane. One strap that was attached to the whale was attached to the crane, and another was connected the tail and the excavator. Given the size of the creature, this was not enough to be able to lift the whale into the truck, so the crane lifted the whale enough so that onshore staff could slide a section of chain link fence under and around the whale. A cable was run around the fencing and attached to the crane. The fencing also acted as a stronger form of netting than just the net that had been used in the water.
A video of the whale being placed in the truck for final removal. Video by Paddy Dyer, 2017.
At about 7pm, the crane and the excavator lifted the whale into the back of a semi dump truck. The crane was equipped with a scale, and the operator said that whale, net and fence weighed in at about 20 tons (40,000 pounds). By 8pm, the whale was in the truck and on its way to the Sunyside dump, allowing the town to reopen the roads in the area.

A time-lapse video of the whale removal. Video by CBC NL.

But what is the aftermath of this whale washing up on the beach? For one, it is a significant cost for the community to have to pay for the removal of the whale. For another, having the whale on the beach was a concern to public safety. The rotting body of the whale poses risks to anyone getting close, from bacterial contamination to the added slickness created by the oils coating the beach. Warnings were issued regarding public safety as people ventured to the beach to see the creature.

LBMCOC mayor John Kennedy discussing the cost of the removal. Video by CBC NL.

Another concern is that capelin season will soon be here. Researchers warn that because the whale was on or near the beach so long, the oils have permeated the area, so unless there is some significant rainfall before the capelin come in, any fish caught on the beach might have a whale taste. So, when you head out to catch capelin this year, you might want to think about trying a different beach.

Bartlett, G. and S. Kinsella
2017 Whale Watch From Afar: Outer Cove Crowds Told to Back Off Dead Humpback. CBC NL, 22 May 2017.
Bartlett, G. and S. Kinsella
2017 Whale Woes Wrap Up: Carcass Leaves Outer Cove. CBC NL, 07 June 2017.
Dyer, P.
2017 "Whale Removal June 7, 2017". Report on file at the town of Logy Bay-Middle Cove-Outer Cove.
Gibbons, J.
2017 Dead Whale Removal Underway at Outer Cove Beach. The Telegram, 07 June 2017.

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