Rare Risso’s Dolphin Washes Up on Haida Gwaii

Haida Gwaii, B.C. – Researchers from Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre were on hand on Haida Gwaii this week to conduct a necropsy of a deceased Risso’s dolphin that washed up there over the weekend.

Caitlin Birdsall and Tessa Danelesko of the B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network were in Skidegate on Friday, Feb. 19 to speak at a Marine Mammal Incident Response Workshop that taught participants what to do if they encountered a dead, distressed, injured or entangled marine mammal. On Saturday evening they received a call from two local residents who had discovered the unusual cetacean — also known as grampus, after its scientific name Grampus griseus — on a beach in Tlell, not far from where they were staying. Although it was already dark and a windstorm was underway, the pair met up with the residents and hauled the animal above the high-tide line.

On Monday they conducted a full necropsy, with help from several local residents, veterinarian Dr. Dane Richardson, Parks Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada officers, BC Parks and the Council of the Haida Nation. It’s important to conduct these exams whenever possible, said Birdsall. “Marine mammals act as sentinels for our oceans. Not only does a necropsy and sample collection help us understand the individual’s health, but it also provides information about the health of the marine environment.”

The dolphin was a female, 3.32 metres long (almost 11 feet). Although they couldn’t see an immediate cause of death they collected samples for genetic testing, blubber and organ samples, and fluid samples for algal toxin testing. The skeleton was also collected and after cleaning will be rearticulated and displayed locally.

The Risso’s dolphin is a large dolphin that is distributed worldwide in tropical and temperate waters. It can grow to four metres long, has a light gray, stocky body covered with scratches and scars, with dark gray flippers, flukes and a tall, curved dorsal fin. Its head is rounded, with no noticeable beak. Though rarely sighted here, it is considered to be not at risk in Canadian waters by COSEWIC (Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada).

“While it’s not a common species for us to see in B.C., we do get sightings reported, usually here on the coast of Haida Gwaii or on the west coast of Vancouver Island,” said Danelesko.

The B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network is a conservation and research program of the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre, in partnership with Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO). It collects sightings of all cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) and sea turtles from B.C. and surrounding waters. Report a sighting with the WhaleReport app, by calling 1-800-I-SAW-ONE, or by emailing [email protected] Find out more at wildwhales.org.

Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre

The Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre is a non-profit society dedicated to the conservation of aquatic life. www.vanaqua.org.


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Amber Sessions
Ocean Wise
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