The decision by curator of the Moruga Museum, Eric Lewis to perform in-house necropsies on the bodies of two melon-headed whales that were washed ashore on Monday afternoon, has been criticised by members of the Trinidad and Tobago Marine Mammal Stranding Network (TTMMSN).
The bodies of these two whales (Peponocephala electra) came ashore at La Lune beach, hours after a pilot whale was beached within the same area. Following combined efforts of villagers and officials, the pilot whale was returned to deep water.
Lewis said that following the discovery of the two deceased whales, they were transported to the Moruga Museum where necropsies were performed.
However, Dr. Wade Seukeran, public relations officer of the TTMMSN told the Express that the network was not contacted and that proper procedure was not followed.
“The first step, even for our network, is to inform the wildlife division of the relevant ministry -now Forestry. The Conservator gives permission. He has game wardens who will be sent to the scene. They are the authority. Only they can determine what happens to the animal.”
“As veterinarians, we will do everything to relieve the suffering of an animal as soon as we can.
"We welcome the help of fishermen and volunteers as long as it is guided by those who know what to do and does not cause harm to the animal even if unintended.
“So our network responds immediately, trained and equipped to examine and help the animal while at the same time informing the correct authority - the wildlife division, and getting permission to do what we are trained to do. It has worked well in the past,” he said.
Seukeran said that contact with beached animals can do more harm than good as they may be injured or carriers of transmittable diseases.
“Stranded marine mammals which are handled by humans without taking the necessary precautions can transmit diseases or cause injury by their reaction to being handled,” he said,
As a result, the Network has repeatedly urged the public to reduce contact with these animals.
He said that the Network has asked that a necropsy be performed by the University of the West Indies. However these requests were ignored.
Speaking to the Express on Thursday, Eric Lewis said that throughout the process of discovery, the Forestry Division was informed about the whales.
He said that the necropsies he performed indicated that both whales died from their consumption of plastic items that were stuck in their respiratory tracts.
Lewis said that he had performed several necropsies in the past although not registered or licensed to do so. He said that the Moruga museum is equipped with a natural sciences department and that museums are authorized to take ownership of deceased marine life.
However he was contacted by marine departments and universities to send samples of the whales to conduct further research.
In response to the warnings of the TTMMSN to avoid untrained contact with beached animals who may be carriers of diseases or severely injured, Lewis said that he was not convinced that simply touching the animal would transmit diseases.
“I don’t think that the touching of the animal could spread diseases. We acted out of care and concern which is what we are supposed to do as humans, we salvaged the bodies for scientific reasons,” he said.
He added that he was willing to work with relevant organizations in the future to observe the recommended procedure.
The TTMMSN can be contacted via its Facebook page or at 735- 3530.