Dead Minke Whale - Necropsy Investigation

Hi all,

It has been so busy for us here in the Rescue department that we have not had time to write about this story. As many of you saw on the news, we recently responded to a dead minke whale on the north shore of Massachusetts.

Photo by Nancy Smith

The whale stranded on Crane Beach, which is managed by the Trustees of Reservations. We began working with the Trustee staff at the reservation to establish a necropsy (animal autopsy) plan for this whale. There are a lot of logistics that must be worked out before a necropsy can take place. The Trustee staff determined that it would be possible to bury the carcass on their property; that set the stage for a necropsy exam.

The first step when a large whale strands on the beach is to dispatch a team to the site as quickly as possible. This team will perform an external exam and collect life history information. In this case staff members Kerry and Ulrika took a team to the whale and worked with the Trustees staff to collect the data, photo document the whale and secure it for a the necropsy exam.

The photo below shows the team photographing the mouth area on this whale. This is a great photo of the baleen.

The necropsy team includes a necropsy team leader, a site coordinator, safety officer, a photographer, a scribe, a team of cutters, a team of runners and a team in charge of sampling. There are many other roles but these are the most important.

In the photo below, the necropsy team begins the dissection. The heavy machinery is used to remove and bury blubber and other parts after the team has examined them.

In this photo Dr. Charles Innis, the Aquarium's chief veterinarian, examines tissue and collects a sample from the whale. Over his shoulder is the scribe who records information in real time.

Collecting samples for histological evaluation is of great importance as it will help us determine the cause of death. We have a trained sampling team who records and tracks each tissue as it is collected and preserved.

In the photo below, Aquarium biologists Kerry and Eric record each tissue as it is collected.

Large whales tend to be pretty obvious on the beach so in preparation for large crowds that tend to gather to watch the necropsy we brought three of our Aquarium educators. These folks educated the public on Minke whales and on the necropsy process.

In the photo below Aquarium Educator, Kara Mahoney Robinson, shows two onlookers a piece of baleen from our collection.

We would not have been able to investigate the death of this whale if not for the help and cooperation from the Trustees of Reservations on Crane Beach. Their role was crucial and their help and expertise with heavy machinery made this necropsy possible.

In the photo below Arthur Howe (Art), the Public Safety Manager for Crane Beach, checks his radio. Art, and the other staff from the Trustees of Reservations were truly great to work with. In the background of this photo you can see other Trustee employees managing the soft tissue from the whale.

What would a day conducting a large whale necropsy on the beach be like without getting our truck stuck in the sand? We don't know! The great Trustee staff helped pull us out with one of the machines, otherwise the tide would have claimed out truck - YIKES!

It will take several weeks for all the test results to come back. Once we receive the pathology report and other test results, our chief veterinarian will review these reports and other data to determine a cause of death.

Thanks to all our staff, volunteers and colleagues who helped with this necropsy. A special thanks goes to the Trustees of Reservations on Crane Beach for all their help and support.

- Connie

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