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'Urgent health concern': Stay away and don't eat dead whales, warns DFO

Some Haida Gwaii dogs have "severe illness" after eating meat from a dead whale.
A humpback carcass decomposing after washing up in Masset Inlet in November 2022.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) is asking the public to keep a safe distance from the dead whales that have recently washed up on B.C. shores.

The urgent notice comes after DFO was alerted to "severe illness" in local Haida Gwaii dogs. Officers say the dogs ingested whale meat from a decaying carcass in the area of Masset Inlet.

"Apart from the concerns around botulism in the dead whale carcass that make it unfit for consumption, marine mammal meat and blubber can also contain high levels of toxins and heavy metals,” says fishery officer Chase Edwards.

"If you, or your animals, have ingested meat from this humpback whale, please inform Haida Gwaii fishery officers at 250-559-8532, or 250-626-3316 in Masset," states the notice.

Edwards is also reminding the public that getting too close to a decaying carcass is a health concern.

"Especially in a place like this; lots of school groups, tourists and people like to go check it out, so we just want people to be aware that looking and taking photos is probably the best option instead of playing with it or taking pieces or parts of it.”

Edwards adds it's common for people to take animal bones and hang them in their house or use them for educational purposes. While scavenging from a dead animal is not prohibited due to health and other concerns, he doesn't recommend anyone handle an animal carcass.

A total of three whales have been confirmed dead by Fisheries and Oceans Canada within one month; two of them showed signs of blunt force trauma.

The humpback whale in Masset Inlet was necropsied by DFO on Nov. 9 to determine the cause of death. DFO tells Glacier Media it could take several months for the results.

Oftentimes, the DFO's mandate is to leave a dead whale where it washes up. 

“It's kind of it's an interesting one because … whale carcasses are important food source for marine (life) like terrestrial organisms,” he says.

Municipalities can request a carcass be moved, "if it's like really smelly" or there are pets and other animals getting to it.

Edwards says DFO has placed signs around the beached whale in Masset Inlet, asking dog owners to leash their pooch.