Port Townsend students participate in marine mammal necropsies
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Charlie Bermant/Peninsula Daily News
Science teacher Jamie Landry, left, student Max Morningstar and AmeriCorps worker Danae Presler enter data during a seal necropsy conducted by the Port Townsend Marine Science Center and used as a learning lab for Jefferson Community School students.

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — Jefferson Community School students participated Thursday in necropsies of two marine mammals conducted to gather research data at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center.

“When a kid participates in this, it will change their life and affect what they may want to do as a career,” said Head of School Rita Hemsley.

“I don't know if that's really true, but it was really neat and a great opportunity,” said seventh-grader Max Morningstar, 11.

“We learned how the entire procedure is done, and we also learned a lot about the organs and how they differ from humans.”

Seal found on beach

Two classes participated in the necropsy of a seal that was found dead on the Fort Worden State Park beach in October and frozen before the procedure, and of the body of a porpoise recovered Jan. 3 in Discovery Bay.

“If you do a necropsy on an animal that is frozen, some of the information can be lost, but if it's fresh, you can collect more meaningful data,” said Jamie Landry, the marine science center's citizen science coordinator and the community school's science teacher.

Landry provided instruction during the process, which was conducted by veterinarian Stephanie Norman and marine program coordinator Chrissy McLean.

A necropsy involves dissecting the animal, taking samples of each organ and preserving them for analysis.

The samples are sent to research facilities to help scientists understand the overall health of marine mammals, Landry said.

Provide information

Analysis of fatty tissues can provide information about contaminants originating from people that are finding their way into the ecosystem, she said.

The data is shared with other marine mammal researches in the Puget Sound area.

While Thursday's necropsies — which varied from the standard ones in that 15 people were in a room that usually holds five — provided a learning opportunity for students, the staff also gleaned some knowledge.

“The first time we did the procedure, it was pretty chaotic,” Landry said.

“Every time we do one, we learn something about how to be more efficient, like where we need to stand while doing a certain function so we don't get in anybody's way.”

Everyone suits up with gowns and booties, thrown away after one use, and plastic face shields that are recycled.

These are used to prevent the possibility of any “zonotic diseases” that can spread from animals to humans.

“The more we learn about marine mammals, the more we realize we need to wear these implements,” Landry said.

“Twenty years ago, a vet would conduct a necropsy barehanded but that has changed.”

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Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or cbermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: January 09. 2014 11:33PM
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