Riverhead Foundation and Marine Science Course Collaborate on Aquatic Mystery

seal_dissection_16_9132 Marine Science students at Ross School got a rare glimpse into the biology of a seal last week when representatives from the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation conducted a seal necropsy in Ross School’s EcoLab. The class was allowed to assist Rescue Program Director and Biologist Kimberly Durham in a postmortem examination on an eight-month-old female harbor seal that was found beached in East Moriches.

As a mortality investigator, Kimberly and Stranding Technician Hannah Winslow work together to determine how beached sea animals died. Their organization, which responds to about 100 calls annually, relies heavily on the support and vigilance of volunteers to rescue and care for these endangered animals.

Although students identified wounds on the yearling consistent with those from a predator attack, studying the animal’s internal organs and tissues led to the conclusion that an infection may have played a part in her death, weakening her and making her easy prey. Students were permitted to take photos and videos of the necropsy, although Kimberly did ask students to use discretion when sharing them.

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While leading the necropsy, Kimberly also spoke about her career path with students, explaining how, after graduating from college with a degree in biology, she began volunteering with Riverhead Foundation and fell in love with the work. She encouraged students who had an interest in working with marine life to seek out volunteer and internship opportunities to gain hands-on experience. She also urged them to spread the word about the unique opportunity they were able to participate in. “Educate your friends and family,” she said. “Tell them about your experience and what you learned here.”

For information about Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation, please visit riverheadfoundation.org.