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Province, Ottawa discuss options to help Newfoundland towns with beached whales

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — It’s no small matter to deal with a mammoth whale carcass, a sad cleanup job that seaside officials around the world have approached with varying degrees of success.

Turns out using 20 cases of dynamite to blow the thing up isn’t the best idea. Proof of this was famously recorded in Florence, Ore., in 1970. About 75 bystanders watching half a kilometre away had to flee from raining chunks of sperm whale blubber, including one that flattened a car.

What are better options?

It’s a question provincial officials are now discussing with federal counterparts to help small towns on Newfoundland’s west coast deal with the rotting remains of two blue whales near Trout River and Rocky Harbour.

A third whale among a total of nine that died trapped in thick sea ice earlier this spring has since drifted away from Bakers Brook off the coast of Gros Morne National Park, said Jack Lawson, a researcher with the federal Fisheries Department.

A mammal that size could be dangerous for mariners if towed to sea and it’s too big and blubbery to burn. Beached whales in other parts of the world have been buried onsite, cut up or loaded on to flatbed trucks and hauled to landfills.

In Trout River, town officials have appealed for help to remove a stinking, 26-metre long carcass sitting 500 metres from a popular waterfront restaurant. It likely weighs about 60 tonnes.

Lawson has said the whale is above the high water mark and is the province’s responsibility.

Vanessa Colman-Sadd, a spokeswoman for Service NL, said Wednesday the province is in talks with federal partners on how to handle what she called a “unique situation.”

“Discussions are ongoing to determine the best course of action.”

Lawson has downplayed concerns that the bloating whales could explode as methane gas builds internally.

He believes it’s more likely gases will escape as the whales’ skin breaks down, deflating like an old balloon.

Local officials want the whales removed, and fast. They’ve raised concerns about potential health hazards and a powerful stench that could affect the crucial summer season in one of the province’s prime tourism regions.

 
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