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Old 05-10-2010, 07:12 PM
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Default Odors that just won't go away.

Yeah, I'm bored as hell.

Last weekend I helped out a local aquarium that I volunteer out to go strip a dead whale so that they could collect the bones to hand inside the aquarium entrance. The whale had been dead for almost a month. All I can say is that the smell really does permeate your clothes and I wasn't even in the thick of the gore the way some of the other people were, especially those from Fish and Wildlife. Visually it was so strange looking that revulsion just didn't come into play.
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Old 05-12-2010, 10:20 AM
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That is, I have to say, an odour problem I've never had to content with!

The worst I've had is getting the 'new car' smell out of mine that still exists now and again 3 years after I bought the thing!
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Old 05-12-2010, 12:00 PM
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I would honestly like to experience that. Dissecting such a large animal... fascinating!
About new car smell... it was the best track on the CD
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Old 05-12-2010, 07:01 PM
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Originally Posted by NCC-73515 View Post
I would honestly like to experience that. Dissecting such a large animal... fascinating!
About new car smell... it was the best track on the CD
Makes me think of the episode of Mythbusters where they put some dead pigs inside a sports car and let them putrefy to see if it was even possible to clean the car out well enough to sell.

And yes it was really quite the experience on several levels. First off I've never seen a whale up close. From a biological point of view, you can see things in it that are just very difficult to see on a smaller animal like a human. When we weren't cutting into putrefied flesh, we could actually see the blood vessels and some of the other internal workings. Lastly, as rather morbid as it sounds, I was kind of curious to examine a body in a more advanced stage of decomposition. Had the people from the Department of Fish and Wildlife not told me, I wouldn't have even guessed that the black sludge I was standing in was putrefied flesh. As far as the smell, if you've ever been by a dairy farm, that's pretty much how it smelled like.

Also the experience kind of gives a new perspective on what happens when an animal like that beaches itself. Part of what we wanted to do was sever the head. By the time we got there, nature had done it for us. As powerful as the animals are, they aren't designed to support their own weight so when they beach themselves, it's possible for some of their bones to break under their own weight, including the neck.
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Old 05-13-2010, 12:03 AM
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What happened to the brain? Was it still intact?
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Old 05-13-2010, 06:37 AM
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What happened to the brain? Was it still intact?
I actually don't know. Because we were trying to keep the entire skeleton intact, we didn't open the skull. Had we been able to fully separate the head from the body before the tide came in I probably could have snuck a peak through the base of the skull where the spinal cord and brain stem would have entered the skull. However, considering that the intestines and some of the other viscera were still present, it's probably not unreasonable to expect that some if not all the brain was still present; though I cannot account for how much of the other organs had already decomposed, been taken to the lab weeks earlier, been consumed by scavengers, or perhaps even lost during the transporting of the carcass to the beach. To complicate things, the whale had washed up near Seattle, but when we were given the whale by Fish and Wildlife, our director had the whale towed to the southern end of Puget Sound to McNeil Island. The island is a Federal maximum security prison (Washington state's equivalent to Alcatraz) so access to the beach was limited and was a secure place for the whale. So yeah, I really can't give you a definite answer. It's possible it was still there, but it's also just as possible if not more so that it had already decayed.

Internal organs, especially in the gut (as well as the muscles associated with that area) usually are the first to go because of the presence of bacteria which I suspect is normally kept in check by the immune system. When the body dies, the immune system can no longer control the bacteria in the gut and they quickly begin to break down the body from the inside out causing gas build up and bloating. The tail and extremities of the animal which were pretty much just muscle an no internal organs were in the best condition, with little to no obvious visual signs of decay (that I knew of) among the muscle tissues even after nearly a month. The only real visual change in the extremities was the skin had taken on a lighter brownish color and had a texture close to leather.
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Old 05-13-2010, 02:34 PM
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Very insightful, thank you You don't have pictures, do you?
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Old 05-13-2010, 04:51 PM
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Here's a photo taken during the necropsy that was performed on the animal several weeks ago. I was not present during this. I do not have access to any photos taken from last weekend, though I may in the future.



At this point the whale was still fresh. The skin still was it's original color. During the necropsy, the stomach contents were examined. I'm told that in terms of weight, the amount of trash in the stomach was higher than usual, but the amount of trash in proportion to the rest of the stomach contents was still considered normal and it is not believed that the trash was a contributor to the animals death. Some of the items found in the stomach include but not limited to plastic bags, the leg from some nylon running sweats, duct tape, electrical tape, sock, towel, CapriSun juice pack, surgical glove, and a golf ball.

It's not unusual for gray whales to wash up dead during the migration, particularly when younger ones wander off who aren't really familiar with how to survive. We do have orcas as well which have been known to attack gray whales, though I do not know if it is the resident orca pods that do this, or the transient pods, or perhaps both. The main cause of concern is that this whale was the the fifth gray whale in the past year to have washed up dead and the fourth within a two week period.
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Old 05-14-2010, 02:23 AM
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Is there a military facility or ship nearby?
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Old 05-14-2010, 03:33 AM
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Is there a military facility or ship nearby?
Western Washington has a number of military facilities from all branches of the service all over. However, the island where the whale is located is actually a Federal maximum security prison (or rather it was once a Federal prison but has since been taken over by the state) and is located on the far south end of the fjord. The only way to access the island regularly is through a ferry and I'm told that access to the island is heavily controlled. Upon arrival on the island from the ferry, people pass through security screening. As far as I know, it is the last active prison in the US that is only accessible by sea or air. The people who do go on the island are almost always employees of the prison. The ferry runs from a terminal just across from the prison near Fort Steilacoom, which is now a historical park. The base itself (Fort Steilacoom) was decommissioned in 1868. The way we accessed the island when we went to cut up the whale was by a private boat that we had arranged to take us there. The boat was probably on the order of 40 feet long. Upon arrival we anchored about 40-50 feet off the beach and used a Boston Whaler from Fish and Wildlife to shuttle people supplies and equipment to the beach. Naturally, all of this had to be cleared with the Department of Corrections. A list of people who would be present had to be submitted as well.

A large portion of the prisoner population on the island consists of sex offenders. I'm told that by Washington state law the facility houses sex offenders that are considered too dangerous to be released to the public. These individuals are incarcerated there indefinitely at the Special Commitment Center for treatment after serving their terms. Low risk prisoners or those about to be released are housed on the other side of the island. The island once served as a military facility as well as a military prison over a hundred years ago, and for a time the island was self sustaining with farms that were worked by the inmates. In additions to the inmates, there are 40 families and 100 people who live on the island. All the families have at least one person who works at the prison.
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