The killer whale that disappeared from the Seine arrives at the National Museum of Natural History

Louise Salle edited by Wassila Belhacine
06:07, June 21, 2022modified to

06:20, June 21, 2022

The story made the rounds on social media. A weakened and disoriented killer whale was spotted swimming in the Seine between Rouen and Le Havre a month ago. A few days before his death, on June 30, there had been talk of euthanizing him to end his suffering. The National Museum of Natural History in Paris has taken the decision to recover his skeleton to exhibit it, from mid-July, in its collections. These spaces are visited only by researchers who rub their hands to study closely, and in impeccable condition, the anatomy of an orca.

A meticulous preparation of the skeleton which will last until mid-July

The remains of this species are indeed regularly lost at sea, or wash up on beaches in a degraded state. This time, the bones are intact. Since June 3, they have been carefully cleaned, before being meticulously numbered, explains Christine Lefèvre, director of the naturalist collections of the Museum.

“The killer whale came to us cut into pieces in different garbage bags and now we have to carry out the different stages of preparation of the skeleton,” she explains. “So you have to boil the different anatomical elements. Then you have to remove the flesh that remains attached to the bones and degrease the bones. Then there is a rinse that is done in lukewarm water with a little bit of sodium carbonate and dishwashing liquid, to whiten the skeletons a little”, Christine Lefèvre list.

This preparation will last until mid-July. Then the killer whale will join the collections of the Museum, in a building of the Jardin des Plantes specially dedicated to marine mammals and accessible to scientists who request it.

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The objective: to learn more about this species that we know relatively little from a biological point of view, since it is more the behavior of this animal that has been studied due to the rarity of recovered corpses. Finally, it will be a question of understanding the origins of the disease which weakened him and his arrival in the Seine.

Research to better protect marine biodiversity

“It’s totally abnormal for an animal of this size to get lost to the point of going up a river of fresh water like the Seine…”, resumes Christine Lefèvre. “So, what happened? What made this animal end up in this situation?” she asks herself.

“Perhaps her environment presented such a high level of pollution, that it contributed to disorienting her… We have no answer yet, we are taking the time to analyze all the data we have thanks to the samples taken” , concludes the Director of Collections.

The killer whale will join the 67 million skeletons on display at the Museum, stored in several reserves in the Paris region – the remains presented range from larvae or shrimp to elephants… Most of these specimens are invisible to the general public, who do not only see a few tens of thousands.