Life and Science

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Andrew Baird

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The folks from the whale museum getting a tissue sample from the liver

Today was an interesting day down by the dock. Despite the weather taking a gloomy turn from yesterday, I got up early to go see a necropsy of a local Stellar Sea Lion held by the folks over at the Friday Harbor Whale Museum. We all had been quite aware of the poor devil, for it had been tied to one of the research vessels over the previous two days where it had been slowly swelling in the sun. Once the Whale Museum Team started to assemble in the cool of the morning, I couldn’t help but wonder how they planned on getting the 2000lb animal into the small craft they had it tied to. And as the team continued to tie and retie the massive creature, I started to think I wasnt the only one who was confused by the task. Luckily the FHL grounds staff had a truck with a hydraulic crane on the back that aided in the movement of the sea lion.

The Sea Lion being carted back out the boat

The Sea Lion being carted back out of the boat

Once the the mammal was in the boat, the Whale team commenced the necropsy rather unceremoniously, cutting into the beasts belly with sharpened knives. The first thing that struck me was the amount of fatty tissue the animal had. The chief scientist wielding the main knife estimated it at 10cm of blubber! After splitting through all the muscle and connective tissue, the team got to the rib cage. This is when the 3ft garden sheers came out. The science team took many opportunities to cue the audience in on what they were noticing. The Sea Lion was an adult male of very healthy stature, whom probably died from injuries afflicted by a pod of transient killer whales. Once the rib cage was removed the science team collected around 1oz of tissue samples along with the animals head before ceasing their investigation. At this point we had begun sampling as we always would, with the temporary addition of the smell of death. As we continued our sampling we got to see the Whale Museum people drag the creatures decapitated & disemboweled carcass out of the bay to be sunk. It is interesting how such important work can still be so grisly.

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The one ton Stellar Sea Lion being lifted into the vessel for the necropsy

It wasnt long after the Sea Lion was in its final resting place, that our niskin sampling was interrupted by further excitement. I happened to look out into the water adjacent to our niskin stand to see a local Melibe Leonina gracefully undulate by. Remembering that one of our visiting scientist is studying these animals, I went and got him so he could collect the small invertebrate. (The scientist doing the study is Win Watson from University of New Hampshire, and him and his colleges are looking at the neural behavior and connections of the animal. Worth a google search)

Although Win simply swept up the fleshy little nudibranch from the water, I couldnt help but think of the sea lion ordeal and how intertwined life and science truly are.

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