06/09/2020 14:00 EDT | Updated 06/10/2020 10:41 EDT

Montreal’s Adored Humpback Whale Has Died

It was first spotted in the St. Lawrence River at the end of May.

MONTREAL — There was no fairy tale ending for a wayward humpback whale that had captivated crowds in the Montreal area in recent days, as a whale research group announced Tuesday that the animal appears to have been found dead.

The Group for Research and Education on Marine Mammals reported Tuesday morning that a boat pilot spotted the carcass of a whale in the water off Varennes, about 30 kilometres northeast of Montreal.

Marie-Eve Muller, a spokeswoman for the group, said experts were on site and evaluating the best way to tow the carcass to shore to conduct a necropsy.

She said it was important to ensure the carcass doesn’t become a “public health hazard,” due either to smells or crowds gathering in a time of COVID-19.

The young humpback whale was first spotted in the Montreal area at the end of May, several hundred kilometres from its usual habitat.

Over the next few days it drew large crowds to Montreal’s Old Port, where it thrilled onlookers with spectacular breaches.

The whale had not been seen since the weekend, and many expressed hope that it had turned around and was heading back to its home range near Tadoussac.

Muller said it’s too early to hypothesize about how the whale died or even to confirm it’s the same one seen in Montreal, although she said it’s very likely.

“Was it already sick, did it get hit by a boat?” she said. “We don’t know.”

In Montreal's Old Port, a humpback whale swims for people watching from above on June 2, 2020.

She said the 9.5 metre-long whale was estimated to be between two and three years old and had appeared energetic.

It’s unclear what prompted it to make the long journey up the St. Lawrence River, although experts suggested it might have been following prey, become lost or was simply curious.

“Right now we mostly have questions, not answers,” Muller said Tuesday.

The group had earlier said it was the first time it had confirmed a whale the size of a humpback in the Montreal area, although minke whales or belugas have been spotted on rare occasions.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 9, 2020

CORRECTION: An earlier version of the video above misspelled Jacques-Cartier Bridge.