Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Operation Burrito Whale

When I think back to this past month, it was one big blur. It was as if my whole month of work just melded together into one big pot of marine science education. It is hard to explain, but I know I taught schools groups, led tours, ran the exhibits, but it feels like it happened so long ago! Then, as if May wasn't big enough, a HUGE opportunity fell into our laps, and we just couldn't say no. I'm sure most of you already know what I am about to say, but in the middle of the craziness that was May, the Port Townsend Marine Science Center acquired another full Grey Whale skeleton (the gray whale in our possession now is used for our Whales of the Salish Sea classes).

I have been waiting for an experience like this to happen again. The first necropsy I ever did was on a Sperm Whale four years ago in Bar Harbor, Maine. I didn't know when/if I would ever get to take part in a large whale necropsy after that, but luckily, I did. It was a hectic but exciting week where we were just about completely consumed with dealing with this whale. And let me tell you, dealing with a 30 ft. Grey Whale with only a week to plan is no easy job. But we were successful! A group of about 25 people spent 8.5 hours cutting up, wrapping and then sinking the whale. By the end we were all exhausted and smelled horrible — my watch and two pairs of rain boots still have a faint smell of decomposing whale.

It is still hard to truly comprehend what happened. Below I have added some pictures from what has become affectionately known as Operation Burrito Whale.

If you want to have further details, check out the article that appeared in the Port Townsend Leader last week!

Megan dabs essential oils under her nose.
This will only partially mask the smell of the whale.

Our knives became dull very quickly.
Even though we had 20 knives to use,
there were always knives to sharpen.

We could not have pulled this off without the help of all our
volunteers! Whether they were digging holes, cutting the whale,
or dealing with the net, they were helping out. 

Sometimes you just have to stand in a puddle of blood to
get the job done. 

By far the hardest part of cutting the whale
was getting the scapula and the pectoral fins. It took
about and hour to get just one out!
Karlisa and Carolyn after they cut the fin off

It took three people to get the scapula and fin out.
Michael! You were supposed to put the net over the whale, not
the net team!
Mallory and the net team turning our whale
into a "burrito" 
Burrito rolling time!

None of this would have been able to happen without the knowledge, resources and help from different organizations. So a BIG thank you goes out to NOAA Fisheries, the U.S. Navy, Washington Deparment of Fish and Wildlife Marine Mammal Investigation, Cascadia Research Collective, the MaST Center, Dr. Pete Schroeder, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Enforcement, Washington State Parks, Washington Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Coast Guard, Orca Network, Seattle Aquarium and the Sea Doc Society.

 And of course, a big thank you goes out to all of the wonderful volunteers and staff who took time out of their normal schedule to help out. Wade C, Sue L, Megan A, Mallory W, Michael T, Merce D, Stewart P, Howard T, Ashley M, Rebecca M, Carolyn W, Zofia K, Amy J, Karlisa C, Betsy C, Janine D, Alison R, and Phil D.

KATIE CONROY is the Marine Mammal Stranding Educator and an AmeriCorps member serving at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center.

Don't forget to join us this Saturday, June 4, at 9 am for a guided low tide walk! We're expecting to have great weather, so if you haven't ever participated in one of PTMSC's low tide walks, this would be a great weekend to grab your brand-new PTMSC hat and come out to explore!

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