Shining a light on the ‘CSI of the Sea’

A sell-out audience will tonight have the unique opportunity to watch a ‘dolphin post-mortem’ being conducted in real-time, overseen by some of the same scientists who also investigated the mysterious mass-stranding of sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) on UK shores earlier this year. 

Common dolphin stranded in Cardigan Bay, Wales.
Common dolphin stranded in Cardigan Bay, Wales.

As part of two days of scientific events hosted at ZSL London Zoo to mark the 25th anniversary of the UK’s Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme (CSIP), attendees will watch via live video link to the Institute of Zoology’s pathology lab, as CSIP scientists conduct a post-mortem (or ‘necropsy’) procedure on a common dolphin (Delphinus delphis) that recently died after live stranding in Cardigan Bay in Wales. 

This necropsy is just one of many that ZSL’s scientists perform each year, as part of their contribution to the CSIP. This multi-partner project, funded by Defra and the Devolved Governments of Scotland and Wales, seeks to understand the reasons why cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) – as well as seals, basking sharks and marine turtles – strand around the British coastline, so more can be learnt about the threats these species face. 

Commenting on the event, ZSL’s Rob Deaville – CSIP Project Manager – said: “As the CSIP marks its 25th anniversary, we’re delighted to be offering the public this unique glimpse into our day-to-day work. Obviously it’s always sad whenever one of these creatures is found stranded around British shores, but trying to understand the causes of death and disease in whales, dolphins and other iconic marine species will hopefully provide vital clues that will enable better conservation of these animals in future.”

Stranded killer whale, © ZSL
Stranded killer whale

The vast majority of CSIP necropsies happen behind closed doors in lab environments, so today’s ZSL event represents the first-ever opportunity for members of the public to witness one of these investigations in real-time. The audience will watch as scientists examine and dissect the specimen, taking samples for analysis that could provide evidence of why the dolphin died. This valuable data will then feed into the wider CSIP database, enabling analysis of trends and helping to shape future marine conservation policy.

Commenting further, Professor Ken Norris, Director of ZSL’s Institute of Zoology said: “Broadening public understanding of the conservation sciences is a fundamental part of our remit. We’re therefore pleased to be hosting this special event and delighted to see the amount of interest it has generated across ZSL’s membership and beyond.” 

Sperm whale stranded in Pegwell Bay
Sperm whale stranded in Pegwell Bay

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