Sea Lion Flensing!
A few weeks ago I flensed my first sea lion skull at The Marine Mammal Center for the California Academy of Sciences.
What is flensing, you ask?
Well, you may wish you hadn’t.
Traditionally, flensing was a term used to describe the removal of blubber from whales after they had been hunted by whalers.
For me, it involved using a scalpel (many blade changes, mind you) to remove the tissue, muscles, cranial nerves, and whatever else all that stuff was from the a California Sea Lion’s (Zalophus californianus) skull.
It was amusing because having no prior knowledge of the act of flesning, or that I would be performing the act, I had just gulped down a gigantic burrito from a Taqueria in Outer Richmond. I was blessed with a strong stomach I suppose.
Plus it wasn’t the first time I had to deal with dead meat. When I volunteered as an animal dietician at a small zoo, I had to remove boney tendons from horse meat for the large cat residents.
But I digress…
Here is a pictures I found on a UCSC website of postmortem examination’s of California Sea Lions. It gives you a pretty good idea of what I was working with. One of these days I’ll get a GoPro camera to get some of my own awesome footage. Apologies for the faint of heart.
Unlike the photo, the outer fur layer had been removed as well as the eyes and the brain. There were about five to do and three of us working. I only got through one. I was surprised at how difficult it was. The blades wore out easily. The flesh was so rubbery at times that it felt like I was cutting forever. Plus there were endless jaw muscles and weird pockets of flesh and muscle that I kept discovering. I didn’t finish the skull (boil, final clean etc.); we were just supposed to remove as much flesh as possible before sending them on to the California Academy of Sciences.
It makes me wonder how hard it would be to perform an autopsy; how difficult not to ruin precious organs. Maybe someday I will get experience performing autopsies.
Ps. Here’s a cool article about flensing for the Fort Worden State Park in Washington. They actually got to boil the remaining flesh on for the final product.