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Baby killer whale goes under knife at Te Papa

Mar 18th, 2010 | By | Category: Front Page Layout, Lead Story, News

orcaMAIN1 top

A BABY orca brought together scientists from the other side of the world and around New Zealand to Wellington this week – to cut it up.

The two-metre long, two-day old orca was beached on Waita Beach, north of Haast, and gifted to Te Papa by West Coast iwi Makaawhio.

“Necropsy” was the correct term for the event to study why and how the orca died and to add to scientists’ knowledge of the species.

The absorbed scientists went about their hours of work watched by a small gathering of media, students, and Te Papa and Wellington Zoo employees.

An open roller door had fresh air blowing through Te Papa’s large garage-like building in Tory St, but it was not enough to keep away the underlying smell of dead baby whale.

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Explaining the importance of the necropsy, Canadian veterinary pathologist Stephen Raverty said, next to humans, whales were the most widely dispersed mammals so they were an indicator of ecological health.

Te Papa marine mammals collections manager Anton van Helden (right) said he invited Mr Raverty to New Zealand because he has done more whale necropsies than any other scientist.

orcaHEADSHOT 1Also at the table was Dr Ingrid Visser (left) from the Orca Research Trust, based at Tutukaka, who hopes to identify which population the orca is from.

Mr Raverty, who has developed the necropsy protocols for whales worldwide, said they would be looking for signs of disease to establish cause of death.

During the process the scientists collected parts for anatomical studies Mr van Helden said Te Papa would retain the skeleton and organs for analysis and also send some samples overseas.

“We have complete agreement of iwi to do so, our relationship with them is paramount,” he said.

The necropsy found the orca had extensive bruising, indicating physical injury, although definite cause of death will not be conclusively known for months.

orcaMAIN2LIFELESS: The baby orca ready for the scalpel. BELOW: The necropsy begins.orcaMAIN8

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BLOOD FLOWS: Things get messy as Stephen Raverty goes to work.

orcaMAIN3SNAP SHOT: A photographer focuses on the process.

orcaMAIN5DISSECTION: The orca’s dorsal fin lies next to the body

orcaMAIN4IN DEEP: Stephen Raverty absorbed in his work.

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6 comments
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  1. I really hope that whale was beached and not killed.

  2. I do hope so too. These perfect diverse animals deserve to be left alone. Seeing as their brains are 5x + bigger than ours. I feel ashamed to be a human. That is the definite case of why I am going to become a Marine Biologist. Though not entering this sort of… Field… I am no biopsy, autopsy or whatever opsy kinda of person, I rather save and help preserve the diverse marine mammals. Though I bet he’s really helping world realize what sort of animals these are. Great work Stephen.

  3. this mammalian can live 60 years of age in female, and 70-80 years for female in the ocean.They can live maximum up to 30 years in captivity.

  4. Killer whales brain is five times larger than humans. They are very social, intelligent, and curious. I wish we could see the brain too. Their gestation period is around 16 to 17 months and they usually give birth to only one calf. I do not know if they can see in color or black and white, but I know they can see both in and out of the water.

  5. sorry, I typed female two times in my last comment. I mean 60 years of age for males and 70-80 years of age for females. It is interesting to know calves are born typically weighing 400 pounds and measuring from 6 to 8 feet long and they are able to swim beside their mother within thirty minutes of being born. In most cases, each female only gives birth to one calf.

  6. Adam,
    “They can live maximum up to 30 years in captivity.”
    Corky 2 is a female orca that is almost 50; she lives in captivity.

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