Tuesday, October 5, 2010

October 5, 2010 - Necropsy of a Gray Seal at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Today Krill, one of our NECWA staff members, participated in the necropsy (animal autopsy) of an adult, male gray seal. This animal had been hauled out on the beach at the Head of the Meadow, in Truro, MA. It was reported to the IFAW Marine Mammal Rescue and Research Program and their staff had monitored its health for a number of days. Unfortunately, it became clear to the team that this individual was very sick and its condition was deteriorating rapidly. So yesterday, the team had to make the very difficult and sad decision of euthanizing this animal.

It is very sad when a seal or other marine animal dies or has to be euthanized. But if the carcass can be examined, then the animal's life has not been wasted. Necropsies provide scientists a variety of information on the cause of death and on the general biology and life history of the species. And information gained from necropsies can be used to help protect the other gray seals in our New England waters and in other areas of their range.

This necropsy was conducted down at the Marine Mammal Research Facility, which is part of the Marine Mammal Center at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. This effort was a join activity that involved the IFAW Marine Mammal Rescue and Research Program (IFAW MMRR) and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI). Leading the team was Misty Niemeyer from IFAW MMRR and Dr. Michael Moore from WHOI.

First the team worked to clean up the outside of the carcass by washing down the fur and removing algae that was attached to the seal's back. Then the team took a series of external measurements of body parts and markings. Misty also documented on paper and through photographs any obvious scars, lesions or other marks on the animal's body. The next step was to examine the internal anatomy of the seal and collect various internal organs and tissues for later analysis.

It will take a number of weeks for the team to examine all the data and photographs in order to determine the cause of death for this beautiful gray seal. Efforts by the team today are helping scientists like Misty and Dr. Michael Moore better understand the gray seal in our New England waters and protect this endangered and magnificent marine mammal.