Hybrid Porpoise Necropsy! Warning: Gory Photos

I know a few biologists that don’t like necropsies but for the life of me I can’t figure out what’s not to like, aside from the smell. Death is a part of life and it’s not every day you’re given the chance to really get down and dirty with your study subjects. To this day some of my most cherished science-nerd memories come from necropsies – a spotted hyena in Kenya and the infamous Friday Harbor fin whale come to mind. Anyways, word spread around San Juan Island that there was a Dall’s/harbor porpoise hybrid that had stranded at South Beach on Saturday, and the necropsy was planned for Monday morning at the University of Washington Friday Harbor Labs. I’ve been to a number of harbor and Dall’s porpoise necropsies but a fresh dead hybrid is a rare find and I was excited to get a close look at one.
Yep, it kind of looks like the offspring of a Dall’s mother and harbor porpoise father.

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It was a female and the safe bet before we cut it open was that it was pregnant.

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First things first, cut off the dorsal and start taking blubber samples. Joe Gaydos of www.seadocsociety.org was the master of ceremonies. If you ever need someone to cut up a marine mammal for you, I highly recommend Joe.

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Muktuk? No thanks, I think I’ll make sure that parasite is fully cooked, thanks.

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Once the blubber was gone from one side, Joe started on the muscle. This would be the tenderloin, no?

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In order to get into the body cavity you need to break open the pruning shears. **Ccrrrrraaaaccckk!!!!

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Guts on the half shell. Hmm, what’s that blob down there?

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Baby! This little girl was full-term and probably would have been born in the next month or so had the mother not died.

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According to Joe this was the most interesting find of the whole necropsy. Not only does it prove that these hybrids are viable reproducers, it will be interesting to look at the genetics see who the father is. Is the little girl 3/4 Dall’s or 3/4 harbor porpoise?

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She’s got some whiskers proving she’s a mammal.

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Now, back to the mother. All of her teeth were worn down to the gumline suggesting this was an older animal.

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Samples were taken from just about every part of the animal. Here Joe works on the heart and lungs.

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Digging deep for the really good stuff.

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Aha! Here’s what remains of the pelvis. Cetaceans evolved from land mammals but I guess they got tired of having hind legs and a pelvis.

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Squeezing feces out of the colon. If you don’t think this is cool you shouldn’t be/go into biology.

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Removing the ovaries.

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Intestines.

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Slicing open the head to look at the eye and other fun parts.

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The lens had been damaged by birds.

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A dorsal view of the scalped head. That white mass is the melon and the two black sacs allow the porpoise to move air about so it can vocalize.

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Everyone loves a flensed out porpoise skull.

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The Whale Museum wanted to keep the skeleton so Joe cut it in half so it would transport easier. I pity the poor interns that get to flense it out completely.

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These are the blood vessels that run along the surface of the flukes.

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Tagging and bagging the carcass.

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When it’s all over the samples have been tagged, bagged, and sent off to various labs for analyses. What remains is a garbage can full of blood, guts, blubber, and flesh.

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Cleanup time!

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All in all it was a great look at a hybrid porpoise and a wonderful learning experience for everyone present. Thanks to Joe Gaydos for another great necropsy! Now, I think it’s time for lunch. Burgers anyone?

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