News - January 28, 2016

Dissecting whale is ‘feat of strength’

Rob Ramaker

Who? Mardik Leopold, researcher at Imares Wageningen UR
What? Revealed the contents of five whale stomachs
Where? In numerous newspapers, on Radio 1, the children’s news and TV programme Kennis van Nu

Five sperm whales got stranded on Texel island. What does a marine researcher do then?

‘I went straight to the beach that evening. There was a lot of commotion, but all I could see in the dark was five silhouettes. I had a quick look and went home. The next morning they were dead. That changed the situation completely. Then it was like there were five stomachs on the beach. Only they were still in their packaging.’

In the end you got the stomachs and intestines from the dissecting team. So what was your weekend like then?

‘A group of us worked on it for four days. One and a half whales a day. Cutting the guts into sections of one metre, and rinsing and sieving the contents. Imares director Tammo Bult and his wife helped too.’

How did you feel when you were done?

‘I was cold for a whole day. It was freezing, it hailed and there was a strong wind in the harbour where we were working. And being a desk-based biologist, you end up with aching muscles. It was a real feat of strength.’