The Importance of Knowing Anatomy!

In the words of Dr. Fails, “all learning is cumulative” and, “remember why you are here!”

This post is a tribute to Dr. Fails, Dr. Whalen and Dr. Sandy, the wonderful anatomy and neuroanatomy professors whose teachings influence my work everyday and continually inspire me to achieve greater levels of professionalism in my dissections and postmortem reports.

A Whale of a Tale

This is the skull from the largest bowhead whale ever landed in Barrow by the Oliver Leavitt Crew in 1992.  The whale was 60 feet long and weighed 120,000 pounds!  This preparation was done by a veterinary anatomist.  Normally, the skull is not kept -in keeping  with cultural tradition, the skull  is pushed back into the ocean after the harvest of the whale is complete.

Thymus-where the T cells get educated

Here is a photo of a thymus taken from a ringed seal.  I am all about the immune system and spend a considerable amount of time searching out lymph nodes and other lymphatic tissues from marine mammals-my colleagues call me “our lady of the lymph nodes”.  Immunologists have demonstrated that beluga whales have much higher populations of gamma delta T-cells like ruminants.  I suspect that the same can be said for the other Arctic marine mammals.  I also suspect that they have incredible innate immune responses and higher populations of NK and B 1 B cells.  With the guidance of Dr. Alan Schenkel, I hope to use molecular diagnostics techniques such as Flow Cytometry and Immunohistochemistry to develop a better understanding of the immune function of the Arctic marine mammals.

Ringed Seal Ovary with Corpus Luteum

I am using my Morris Animal Foundation Grant money to pay for the costs of having formalin-fixed seal and walrus tissues that I have collected embedded, made into slides, and H & E stained so that I can read them and look for any evidence of endocrine disruption that could be the result of contaminants and toxins exposure.

Walrus Blubber

Blubber is collected from the seals and walruses and is fixed in formalin for histological analysis and frozen for OCs (organochlorines), stress hormones, fatty acids and aging studies.

The Reniculated Kidney

Marine mammal kidneys are made up of many “little kidneys” called reniculi.

Walrus Kidney, Cut Surface

Ringed Seal Heart

Pictured below is the heart from a Ringed Seal that I collected tissues from in 2008.  Note the band of muscle that is lying over the paraconal interventricular groove/artery.  This is a congenital defect.

Variations in the Anatomy of the Trachea

Ringed seals have tracheas with complete cartilaginous rings while the proximal trachea of the bearded seal is an incomplete band of cartilage that is made whole by a large band of smooth muscle.  This band of smooth muscle regresses as the trachea progresses distad, and the band of cartilage assumes a more ring-like structure.

The biggest challenge in assessing the health of Arctic marine mammals is learning what is “normal” for them both grossly and histologically, and often this will deviate from what we consider “normal” for their terrestrial counterparts.

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    • meg
    • June 1st, 2010

    This is amazing work! Thank you for sharing it with us.

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