On Oct 31, 2013 an older female Harbor porpoise’s body washed up on Maxwelton beach near the boat launch; but another chapter began that same day.
The Marine Mammal Stranding Network (MMSN) was notified and Howard Garrett collected the carcass to preserve it until a necropsy could be performed. Those familiar with the Stranding Network know that dead marine mammals are often taken for scientific research.
A complete necropsy was performed on November 3rd, 2013 by Dr. Stephanie Norman and Dr. Barry Rickman. Several MMSN volunteers assisted, Matt Klope, Susan Berta, Mary Jo Adams, Howard Garrett and Sandy Dubpernell.
The necropsy showed she was 66.5 inches long and weighed around 151 lbs. She was in fair to poor condition and was pregnant. Her teeth were worn and a few were missing. Samples of the internal organs were taken and it was decided to try and preserve the skeleton as a future educational exhibit.
When the organs were tested it was found she had numerous neoplastic cells (cancer cells) in her lungs, spleen and lymph glands. The finding was she had Lymphoma cancer which is extremely uncommon in porpoise populations.
In early January, her skeleton was sent to Jeff Bradley, Mammalogy Collection Manager at the Burke Museum in Seattle. Jeff utilized his dermestid beetles to clean the bones, saving much time and unpleasant work for the volunteers.
On April 21st, 2016 Jeff sent the bones back and she arrived on Whidbey in several sacks, a bag(s) of bones. Dis-articulated and ready for the bone crew. Sandy Dubpernell sent out a call for volunteers. It was time to get her re-assembled to become an educational exhibit. Over sixteen volunteers responded and thanks to Cathy Robinson and Dr. Dave Parent, who generously let us use their workshop in Langley, we set to work reconstructing the porpoise, now named Maxine.
In August, the Porpoise Pod, as Sandy called us, assembled and sorted the bones finding what went where. Next was painting each bone with a primer fungicide. As we progressed a stand was built and her vertebrae were drilled and placed on a 3/8″ steel rod. With that complete the detail work began. Each bone had to be drilled a small steel pin inserted and glued then attached to the next bone. Considering the 100 plus bones this took quite a while. With one to two workshops a week from September until December the project was completed December 1st, 2016. An estimated 150+ hours were spent on reconstruction alone.
Phil Kempbell carved a duplicate pelvic bone, bet no one can tell which one it is? Caroline Spehar had the tedious job of putting the flipper bones together, with great patience and a job well done. The final push to finish before the Holidays was done by Kathy Fritts, called “The Driller”, Shari Devlin who was “Glue Gunner Gal ” and Debra Paros “The Bone Master. “
On December 5th, Maxine was carefully loaded into a car and driven a few miles to her new home. The paparazzi was there, well, Susan Berta along with South Whidbey Record reporter Evan Thompson. Maxine was carried in and hung and is now in her place of honor. She will now help educate all who visit the Langely Whale Center.
Please take a trip to the Langley Whale Center to meet Maxine! A workbook including photos of the entire process from the necropsy, tissue slides and skeletal reconstruction will be available at the Whale Center for viewing.
Many thanks to all the volunteers who helped with the reconstruction process: Dr. Dave Anderson, Shari Devlin, Sandy Dubpernell, Kathy Fritts, Bonnie Gretz, Jill Hein, Garry Heinrich, LLiana Lopez, Priscilla Lopez, Suzette Montano, Sandra Pollard, Debra Paros, Wendy Berta Sines, Caroline Spehar, Micah (Caroline’s grandson), and Terry Welch. These volunteersrepresent various volunteer organizations including the Langley Whale Center, Marine Mammal Stranding Network, Orca Network, and the Sound Water Stewards of Island County.