Necropsy - Beach Or Lab?

When should you leave a carcass on the beach and when should you bring it into the lab? This is one of the first and most important questions to answer after assessing a carcass.

Below, you will find some helpful hints for making this decision.

The decision of whether to attempt a necropsy in the field versus transporting the carcass back to a necropsy laboratory is an important one. Some factors to consider include POSTMORTEM CONDITION, carcass LOCATION, CIRCUMSTANCES (eg. die-off vs random carcass), available PERSONNEL AND EQUIPMENT, and SAFETY. 
FIVE IMPORTANT CONSIDERATIONS in the decison process (to necropsy or not to necropsy?) are:

1.) Are these carcasses part of a MORTALITY EVENT whose cause is undetermined?
2.) How FRESH are they?
3.) WHERE are they (eg are they accessible?)
4.) HOW MANY are there?
5.) What are my RESOURCES? (eg time, materials, human resources, etc.)
Your BIGGEST OBSTACLE in attempting BEACH NECROPSIES is the beach itself! SAND has a way of getting everywhere that you don't want it to be! Sand can dull your knives, contaminate samples collected for culture and interfere with preparing tissues to examine on the microscope.
SUCCESS! A diagnosis made in the field! This sea lion has a severe bacterial infection of the chest (PYOTHORAX) and lungs (PNEUMONIA).
A closer view of the same chest with the fluid drained away. Despite careful dissection, note that sand has contaminated the chest area prior to collection of samples for culture and microscopy. This is difficult to avoid.
06-necropsy-lab-beach-tn Under field conditions, placing small carcasses or dissected tissues on an impervious surface such as plastic or cutting boards prior to necropsy can facilitate the collection of specimens with less surface contamination with sand, foreign bacteria, plant material or other artifacts.
Where feasible it is easier, safer and more comfortable to perform an extensive necropsy in a necropsy facility, vs on the beach!
Where possible, transport of carcasses to a designated NECROPSY FACILITY is best, as it allows for a safer, more complete necropsy, faster, more complete specimen processing and easier cleanup. Plus, using elevated tables makes the process more comfortable. In this case, gunshot was suspected as the cause of death. This diagnosis was confirmed at necropsy by taking RADIOGRAPHS (xrays) and finding and removing the bullet. These procedures are more difficult to accomplish in the field.
Preparing for a laboratory necropsy. Here the initial measurements are being made and the instruments are set out for the persons completing the necropsy. Note that one person is completing the measurements, while the other is recording the data.
Some advantages of necropsy in the laboratory vs field necropsy are adjustable tables and lighting and controlled environmental conditions. Also, the carcass can be temporarily stored in a cooler if need be. The carcass is now protected from tides, large scavengers, vehicles and other potential sources of damage. In this particular necropsy facility, others can observe the necropsy while in progress via their laptop computers through remotely controlled digital cameras mounted above the necropsy tables. This allows many people to participate in the necropsy and comment on the findings.
11-necropsy-lab-beach-tn One last advantage of laboratory necropsy: Ability to gather specific data, such as weight from larger animals, and presence of carts, saws and other equipment to ease safe handling of the carcass and sample collection.
Safe rigging for weighing a large sea lion using a hanging scale. Note that the carcass is kept close to the ground, and multiple loops of good quality rope are used to distribute the body weight.