They say timing is everything, so it was serendipitous that two researchers from Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre were on hand on Haida Gwaii this week when a deceased Risso’s dolphin washed up on a beach near Skidegate.

Caitlin Birdsall and Tessa Danelesko of the B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network had come to the community last Friday to speak at a Marine Mammal Incident Response Workshop and teach participants what to do if they encountered a dead, distressed, injured or entangled marine mammal. On Saturday evening there came an opportunity to put their lessons into practice.

They received a call from two local residents who had discovered the unusual cetacean — normally found in tropical or temperate waters — 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.

Necropsies on deceased cetaceans help researchers monitor the health of our oceans.

Necropsies on deceased cetaceans help researchers monitor the health of our oceans.

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.”

Although they couldn’t see an immediate cause of death on the female dolphin, 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 displayed locally.

Though rarely sighted here, Risso’s dolphins are not considered to be at risk in Canadian waters.

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

If you come across a deceased or distressed marine mammal, call Fisheries and Oceans Canada at 1-800-465-4336.

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. It collects sightings of all cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) and sea turtles from B.C. and surrounding waters. You can report a sighting with the WhaleReport app, by calling the B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network at 1-866-I-SAW-ONE, or by emailing [email protected]. Find out more at

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