Oddly enough, my brother just called regarding another sea-song related topic and I recounted this discussion to him. He used to do this piece and teach Shanty workshops in Port Townsend when he was a member of Lime Bay Mutiny .
He too was of the opinion that the Blood Red Roses were a reference to the whales spurting their last puff from blood filled lungs.
He also thought that the reason Row Bullies Row or (Roll Bullies Roll, as it is also known in some quarters) did not follow a proper work form was that it was a Forecastle song and not a work song at all. He also stated that there were probably others more knowlegeable here that would dispute that, but that was his opinion.