Two beaked whales have washed up on British Columbia shores in the past two weeks, sparking questions about what led to the deaths of the seldomly-seen marine mammals.
A Cuvier's beaked whale washed ashore near the community of Tofino sometime in the last two weeks. The body is too badly decomposed to conduct a necropsy, with department of fisheries officers asking the photographer who discovered it to send tissue samples.
"We don't see them often, when they do come to the surface it’s not [in] an area where there’s a lot of boaters," said Marcie Callewaert, a photographer who also founded the Victoria Marine Science Association.
Callewaert said she went to take photos expecting to see a dead orca, a more normal sight along the coastline.
Cuvier's beaked whales are known for their ability to dive to deep ocean depths of 900 metres to hunt for fish and squid. Sightings of the mammals in B.C. are rare, with only a handful ever recorded, she added.
"[It's] definitely my first time, I imagine it's my last time. It's not something you ever get to do twice in your life," she said of seeing the whale.
The corpse had propeller marks on its body, suggesting it came into contact with a boat either before or after it died.
Callewaert speculates sonar, which has been linked to previous mass drownings of beaked whales, may have played a role in the mammal’s death.
While officials are investigating how the whale came to wash ashore, other researchers have been dispatched to Haida Gwaii to investigate a second dead beaked whale.
No cause of death has been released for the whale found in Haida Gwaii.