The big picture: Beached

Strandingsonderzoek bruinvissen
images Bas Niemans

BEACHED

The inside of a porpoise

Want to study porpoises in their natural habitat? Forget it. These shy animals rarely surface, and the murky North Sea waters are far from an ideal research environment. However, porpoises are a protected species and we want to find out how the population is doing. That leaves no option but to perform autopsies on beached animals, of which there are several hundred a year.

Around 50 to 100 porpoises have been carefully examined from head to tail every year since 2008 in the UU Department of Pathobiology's section room. This allows Dr Lonneke IJsseldijk to learn more about this small whale species and its habitat, while simultaneously attempting to establish the cause of death. Did the beached animals die of a disease, were they attacked by grey seals, poisoned by polluted seawater or caught in fishing nets? The study was commissioned by the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality, which is particularly interested in animal deaths as a result of human activity. While the population is doing well in terms of numbers, the porpoise is being affected by human interference.

Follow Lonneke IJsseldijk's work on Instagram at @strandingresearch. Also check out the one-off issue of De Bruinvis (The Porpoise)