Dr. Mark Engstrom. Image credit: Facebook Page
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Toronto, Sep 1 (Canadian-Media): An original and interactive exhibition titled ‘Out of the Depths: The Blue Whale Story’, is being held by The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in Toronto until September 4 providing indepth description of the tragic death of nine rare blue whales trapped in ice in 2014 off the coast of Newfoundland (which, along with Labrador, forms one of the territories of Canada), media reports said.
This exhibition is a collaborative project led by ROM’s Dr. Mark Engstrom, Senior Curator and Deputy Director of Collections and Research.
Burton Lim, Assistant Curator of Mammalogy; Jacqueline Miller, Mammalogy Technician; Oliver Haddrath, Ornithology Technician; Dave Ireland, Managing Director of ROM Biodiversity, and Gerry De Iuliis, Lecturer in the Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology at the University of Toronto were other participants.
Opened in 1914 ROM, Canada's largest museum, houses reportedly a collection of more than six million objects and specimens, presented in 40 gallery and exhibition spaces to showcase art, culture, and nature from around the world and across all ages.
A ROM team had travelled to Newfoundland in May 2014, to salvage a Blue Whale that had washed ashore.
This event, although, unfortunate presented ROM with a unique opportunity to study Blue Whales, one of marine mammals, listed as endangered species under Schedule 1 of the Federal Species at Risk Act, which is federal government's key commitment to prevent wildlife species from becoming extinct and providing measures for the legal protection of wildlife species and the conservation of their biological diversity.
An estimated not more than 20,000 blue whales are present in the world, with the North-western Atlantic Population being the lowest, with 200 to 400 whales.
Dr Jack Lawson, a researcher with the Federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) in St John’s, Newfoundland, had flown over that particular area of tragedy and confirmed the death of nine blue whales in the icebergs and found several others alive and swimming.
Blue whales usually sink when they die, but it was found that this time two of the dead blue whales had washed ashore in Trout River and Rocky Harbour, Newfoundland and Labrador.
DFO and ROM trying to salvage the blue whales
The beached whales caused an alarm worldwide, but the DFO and ROM were busy discussing ways to recover these whales for scientific research and educational purposes.
“Salvaging the blue whale in Newfoundland was a once in a lifetime experience,” Lin was quoted by media.
Researchers at ROM could not determine the cause of death of these nine whales which led them to contemplate the food habits of these whales and found that these feed upon exclusively on tiny crustaceans called krills.
During the rise of temperature in late winter and early spring, huge swarms of krill are found in the Gulf of St. Lawrence -- outlet of the North American Great Lakes via the Saint Lawrence River into the Atlantic Ocean -- and are tracked by the blue whales.
This phenomenon led the researchers to study the link between krills and blue whales to find out any clue to the cause of death.
Winter of 2014 arrived with reportedly extreme cold weather with heavy build-up of ice in the Gulf.
The researchers reflected on the possibility that the Blue Whales in the area were feeding when there was a shift in ice towards north of where two currents passed through the Cabot Strait, which lies between Cape Ray, Newfoundland and Cape North, Cape Breton Island.
ROM researchers presumed that the nine blue whales who were spotted in March, were trapped under the ice and consequently died.
The researchers concluded that the reported damage to the skulls of the two whales found on the beach was due to ice which crushed them but they could not determine at that time if skulls of these whales were crushed by ice before or after their death.
Their loss reportedly represented about three percent of the Northwest Atlantic’s blue whale population; in Canada, that’s almost equivalent to the human population of Saskatchewan.
"This was an opportunity for us, born of tragedy, to make something more of life," Mark Engstrom, Senior Curator and Deputy Director of Collections & Research was quoted by the media.
(Reporting by Asha Bajaj)