Marine animal response and necropsy


Every year, more than 1,000 marine animal incidents are reported in Canada. These incidents include whales, sharks, seals and turtles, who are in distress, stranded, injured, entangled, or deceased. 

Many of these involve large marine mammals—such as the iconic North Atlantic right whale—that are already critically endangered.

Across Canada, organizations have formed to help with marine mammal emergencies—from rescue missions to help entangled or injured whales, to performing necropsies that help us better understand the factors that lead to marine animal emergencies and deaths. 

Organizations like the Marine Animal Response Society (MARS) play an essential role in conservation—and there are many ways that you and other Canadians can get involved. 

Here’s how you can help: 

  1. Stay alert:
    The public plays a critical role when it comes to marine animal emergencies because they are often the first to come across these incidents. Learn how to respond if you encounter injured or entangled wildlife in this short video.
  2. Engage in public consultations:
    In Canada, North Atlantic right whales have been protected under the Species at Risk Act since 2002. Since that time, 32 endangered North Atlantic right whales have died in Canadian waters. This high mortality rate, which is primarily caused by human activities, could drive the species to extinction by 2040 if it is not stopped. Add your name to the Canadian Wildlife Federation’s Marine Action Plan petition and let the government of Canada know you want to see safer waterways for whales.
  3. Make a donation:
    Marine animal incidents arise suddenly, requiring experts and specialized equipment at a moment’s notice. Donations to organizations like MARS help ensure they can respond quickly to stranded marine animals and investigate incidents of deceased marine animals. You can support MARS by donating online. Or, locate a marine animal response organization near you.
  4. Become a volunteer: 
    A whale necropsy is a huge undertaking—dozens of people work for days at a time to carefully examine, measure, dissect, and document an animal, in the hopes of determining the probable cause of its death. While specialized skills like veterinary experience are critical, there are roles that dedicated volunteers can fulfill. Organizations like MARS take volunteers from every walk of life, and not only for necropsies. Training is provided, and with many roles to be filled, volunteers can find a role that’s right for them.
  5. Donate marine animal remains:  
    Museums and academic institutions frequently seek specimens and even full whale skeletons for research and educational purposes. If you, or someone you know, have marine animal remains you are looking to donate, organizations like MARS can help put you in touch with museums, universities, and other institutions that can use the remains for beneficial research and education.
  6. Gift tools and services:  
    During necropsies, there are a range of tools that are essential for success. The team needs transportation, freezer space, excavators, and other large equipment. Lending these types of tools and services is a great way volunteers and businesses can help.
  7. “Cheers” to local conservation efforts:  
    Since 2017, OTN has been partnering with Big Spruce Brewing on a deliciously hoppy and tropical IPA by the name of Tag! You’re It! that allocates 50 cents from each can sold to Canadian marine conservation initiatives. This year’s edition is helping organizations that are working to conserve the North Atlantic right whale. This ‘conservation in a can’ is available at the NSLC and Big Spruce’s online shop (free delivery in Nova Scotia, and Canada-wide shipping available too!): 

We recently spoke with Canadian Wildlife Federation‘s Senior Conservation Biologist, Sean Brillant, and MARS’ Executive Director, Tonya Wimmer, about marine animal response and necropsies. Tonya shared a rare look behind the scenes of a necropsy, including rarely seen images of a North Atlantic right whale necropsy

Following the live stream, Sean and Tonya took more of your questions on marine animal incidents, necropsies, and how you can support important conservation work. 

This was the second live stream in our series with Canadian Wildlife Federation (CWF) on North Atlantic right whales.  Join OTN and CWF for our next live webinar, where you’ll have the opportunity to learn more about this endangered species and pose questions to our featured experts. 

Sign up for our email list to be among the first to know about our next event, or watch for more details on our Facebook page!

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