harbor -- didn't find any signs of trauma or impairment, OCC marine
science professor Dennis Kelly said. But a loss of blubber indicated
that the dolphin hadn't eaten in weeks, he said.
Tissue samples will be sent to a lab to see if pollutants may have
impaired the organs, he said.
A larger dolphin was found dead in September but was too badly
decomposed to study, Kelly said, adding that its gender could not be
determined. The juvenile, estimated at 2 to 3 years old, was buried
next to the other one Friday night near the Upper Newport Bay Science
Center in Newport Beach. Kelly said he and the students will exhume
both dolphins' bones next fall and display them at the center.
Some students had affectionately named the younger one "Dex" and
the elder "Sandy", while studying them three times a week near the
Pacific Coast Highway bridge and Pearson's Port.
Richard Evans, director of the Pacific Wildlife Center in Laguna
Niguel, oversaw the necropsy, or animal autopsy, outside an OCC
laboratory. Brian Shmaefsky, a biologist for the Texas Marine Mammals
Stranding Network in Galveston, Texas, and nine OCC students assisted
with the procedure.
"We're looking for obvious causes of death," Shmaefsky said.
"Dolphins live a long time, but when they get this close to shore
there are lots of things that can kill them."
Kelly believes the dolphin died Nov. 23, which means it floated
around in the bay for more than a week before it was found. Marine
mammal remains usually have a 48-hour window before they're
considered useless for examination, but the dolphin was well
preserved by frigid bay waters, he said.
"The water in the bay is cold this time of year, and it was almost
in a deep freeze while it was floating around," Kelly said.
Scientists and students took samples of the dolphin's brain,
blubber, muscle, kidney, liver and skin and hope to get them analyzed
for meningitis and priority pollutants, including
dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, commonly known as DDT, and metals.
They hope to obtain funding for the analysis, since it's $500 to
$800 to inspect each tissue sample, Kelly said. There is no timetable
to obtain a cause of death, he said, and the samples will be frozen.
OCC's marine science students took duplicate samples so they can
conduct their own research, and took turns assisting Evans with the
necropsy procedure by cutting away muscle tissue from bone. Others
videotaped the process.
Molly Kent, 23, said she and a classmate took frequent trips to
study the dolphin over the past few months, while it entertained
"We were both a little upset when it died," she said. "We've done
dissections in lab classes and stuff, but never a dolphin. It's a
very good opportunity for us to learn about them."
* JEFF BENSON covers education and may be reached at (714)
966-4617 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.