The Story of O319: Part 3, Collecting and Cleaning the Skeleton
Continuing on from my last post, Moe made the decision to collect the entire skeleton of offshore Orca 0319, since it was such a rare specimen. This, however, was no easy feat! The beach in the Point Reyes National Seashore where the Orca washed up was a 45 minute hike from our truck, including a trek down a steep hill towards the beach and a climb over a rocky outcrop. So, bringing bones (with some muscle and fat still attached) back over the rocks, up the hill, and along the trail to the truck took a lot of work.
Over a period of 4 days, we were able to get all of the bones back to our lab here at CAS, using some creative methods such as strapping the head of the Orca onto a stretcher and pulling it up the hill.
Even though all of the pieces were brought back from the beach, there was still a lot of work to be done. On the Project Lab blog, I’ve talked about a process called maceration that we use to clean a lot of our skeletons (you can read that here). We have a special large tank for macerating oversized skeletons, which is the tank that we used for the Orca. First, we had to get as much of the remaining tissue off of the bones as possible.
The skeleton was then placed in the maceration tank, where bacteria naturally cleans the bones over time.
Once all tissue was completely macerated off, the bones were soaked in dish soap and dilute ammonia to remove grease. We got them as grease-free as possible before articulation, so that grease would not leak out to the surface of the bones over time.
Next post, I’ll start documenting the actual articulation process, where you can see Lee Post, our staff, and 40 dedicated volunteers put O319 back together!
Laura Wilkinson, Curatorial Assistant and Specimen Preparator, Ornithology and Mammalogy
All marine mammal stranding activities were conducted under authorization by the National Marine Fisheries Service through a Stranding Agreement issued to the California Academy of Sciences and MMPA/ESA Permit No. 932-1905/MA-009526.