Thursday, October 01, 2009

Having a porpoise in life

Original posting
Friday, September 4, 2009

I live on an island in the Puget Sound and enjoy a close connection with wildlife and nature even here in my own back yard.One of my passions in life is marine conservation. The oceans and the life within them are so important to our lives here on land.

Early this year I began to volunteer with a local group the Whatcom Marine Mammal Standing Network ( ) Through my association with this group I've been able to take part in several very interesting interactions with marine mammals, some alive, others found dead at the beach.

About a month ago we had a stranded seal pup here on the island. I got to go and observe this cute little creature. After 2 days of observation the pup was taken to a local rehab facility where he will be cared for until he is able to fend for himself. Hopefully he will be released back into the wild this fall. This stranding call had a happy ending, but that's not always the case.

Most recently we had a call for a small harbor porpoise that had died and washed ashore at the NW side of Lummi Island. It was collected by a volunteer and brought in to be examined to determine the cause of it's death. A lot of information can be gathered from a deceased marine mammal that has washed ashore.

Members of our group who were interested were invited to observe and participate in the necropsy which took place yesterday. I was able to attend. WOW! I learned so much.

Back in my younger days I was quite squeemish about death and so even back in high school I opted out of biology to avoid having to do any kind of disections. These days, I find I'm not squeemish and more curious to learn about this sort of thing.

It was very interesting to see how this process works. The carcass was methodically examined, measured and recorded. Samples were taken for various researchers who are gathering data related to marine mammals and our environment.

As the porpoise was examined I was able to see, touch and learn about the anatomy of harbor porpoises. I have a very hands on learning style so this was ideal for me. I won't go into graphic detail because I know others may not care to hear about a scientific necropsy.

Through this examination it was determined that this young female most likely died due to an acute trauma, likely a boat strike. She had hematoma on her right side and showed some damage to the lung on that side as well as 2 broken ribs.

It's amazing what scientists are able to see and learn based on these type of exams. Because of a thick blubber layer on marine mammals, there is often no outward sign of an injury. The only effective way to find out about an injury like this is to thouroughly examine the animal through a necropsy. Often though even after a necropsy, no difinite cause of death can be determined.

I'm really glad that I'm able to participate with this group and expand my own knowledge base as well as help with recording information that is used by scientists around the world who are studying marine mammals and our environment.

Groups like ours are small non profits who together gather information related to marine mammals all over the world. If you are interested in helping with this cause, check your local Stranding Network for volunteer opportunities. Or support them through donations. For more information on the Whatcom Marine Mammal Stranding network, head over to the website

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