Sunday, 12 June 2011

Necropsy Day

While we have interns, we’ve asked them to write the blog entries for us to get across some of the excitement and novelty of doing all this for the first time.  I think that having done this for a few years now I sometimes forget what an impression a whale necropsy makes when you do it for the first time.  I loved Kassler’s contribution so much I’ve left it entirely unedited except for correcting place names.

I think in all the excitement and ‘gore’, some of the interns may have missed the bit where we looked for parasites, obvious signs of death and collected skin and blubber samples for genetic, stable isotope and pollutant analyses.  The skulls of both animals have been collected and are going to the National Museum in Windhoek in due course.

Both animals described below were discovered by Naude Dreyer of Sandwich Harbour tours who is one of the key members of the Walvis Bay Strandings team.  

I've put in some photos below showing the stages from collection on the beach to final remains. Also a photo showing the small hair follicles on the snout, the shark bites on the tail stock (after death) and Tess looking up cranial structure as we tried to look for the sound producing organs

7th June, Tuesday, 2011
By Kassler Peh – Oceans Research Intern from Singapore

Necropsy of killer whale (calf) and Heaviside’s dolphin (calf)

We set off for Swakopmund early in the morning and reached the offices of the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources at about 0900 hrs. Somewhere within fisheries laid our prized possessions, the dead killer whale and Heaviside’s dolphin. The whale was about 2.3m in length while the dolphin was much smaller, only about 80cm long. Excitement could be sensed all across the intern’s faces and everyone was ready for the necropsy. There were even two journalists present, sharing the exciting moment with us. But little did we know that what started off as a pleasant day would soon turn into a day filled with gore and blood.

First up was Mel, who had the task taking off the killer whale’s head. As soon as the knife sliced through the layer of blubber on the whale, blood started oozing out of the slit. Gas from within the whale started escaping as well and soon, the whole room was filled with the foulest smelling stench ever. As soon as the head came off, Simon took over and dismembered the beast like a seasoned butcher. Together with a few other interns, we started tearing and cutting off the blubber and flesh of the whale. Bits of whale flesh and blood started spewing and spurting all across the room, finally exposing the insides of the whale after about an hour. From the oesophagus all the way to the anus, every bit of the whale was pointed out by Simon expertly. It was a really insightful day for the interns albeit the gore and mess. Finally, the whale was chopped into pieces and packed into small bags, ready for disposal.

Next up after lunch was the Heaviside’s dolphin. Relatively easier to butcher due to its size, the insides of the dolphin was exposed in a matter of minutes. The surprising thing was that the lungs of the dolphin actually had dark patches in it and lung worms were present in its lungs. Milk was also discovered in the stomach and intestines of the dolphin. Just like the whale, the dolphin was also chopped up into pieces and packed into bags.
The only remains of the two corpses were their skulls, which will be transported to the National Museum in Windhoek. Removing the flesh and brain matter off the skull was the last thing on the agenda that day. Once that was done, signs of relief can be witnessed all over the intern’s faces and all of us gladly left the fishery with a huge sense of achievement. What a bloody Tuesday indeed.


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