About a month or so ago, I was asked to participate in a leatherback sea turtle necropsy. The turtle was a large male who had been struck by a boat propeller, severing its front right flipper. The vet and other scientists scheduled the necropsy to see if the turtle had any internal problems that led to it lingering at the surface of the water & ultimately allowing itself to be hit. A group also came to film the procedure for a British science documentary series called “Inside Nature’s Giants.” Who knows…..I might make a quick appearance in the show!
It was an interesting, hot (camera/sound crew needed the AC off to reduce background noise), and STINKY day! I won’t overwhelm you with all the gory pictures I took, but here are a couple of the highlights.
This is what a leatherback looks like. They are very unusual looking compared to other sea turtles. They are protected internationally and listed as endangered by the U.S., among other countries. They mainly eat jellyfish and as a result, possess a very strange looking mouth/esophagus to keep swallowed jellyfish from sliding back out the mouth.
Photo from: http://www.turtlejournal.com/?p=8519
Inside the mouth and throat. All those spikes used to retain their dinner are called papillae. They run down the entire length of the esophagus getting larger as they go!
One of our tasks was to examine the gastrointestinal tract for abnormalities. To do this, we dissected out the entire tract, laid it out, and opened it up. The stink factor during this went through the roof! Other than a few common parasites, the turtle looked normal and fairly healthy…..but BOY, was that intestine long!
Cool, huh? 🙂 Its possible I have a warped sense of cool….