Tuesday, October 10, 2017

With the jawbone of a seal

I promised you a rotting carcass.

I have a photo, but I think I'll keep it under wraps. It's not pretty. (And if you're squeamish, you may want to skip the next paragraph.)

The body, twisted and torn, was lying on the rocks just out of reach of the latest high tide, almost dry. The skin on the legs and back was mostly intact, still slightly hairy. The feet, badly deformed, looked as if they had been flippers. There was no head; the vertebrae, stained black, stretched out of a gaping neck hole.

I found the skull a few steps farther down the beach, and the jaw just beyond that. They were cleaned and dry.

Skull, as found. The whole nose area and upper jaw are missing.

Turned over. The remaining portion of the skull is a bit bigger than my clenched fist.

And the lower jaw. Interesting four-pronged teeth. The back tooth is gone.

Teeth, flippers, hair, skull sutures, size: they made identification easy. It was a harbour seal. It must have died in the water, swollen and floated, and was washed ashore with the highest tide. I wonder how it was that the head and jaw were so thoroughly picked clean, while most of the body was left to rot.

The ocean is full of mysteries.


  1. Many larger scavengers will take the portable pieces of the carcass (ie. the head) as far away from the rest of it as soon as they can, lest their meal be stolen. You have all the pieces of the puzzle to be able to even figure out how long the carcass has been around...time for the head to be carried off a little ways...time for it to be picked at by birds and other scavengers...and time for insects and other arthropods to clean it to the bone, but not enough time for the rest of the body to have had much activity. A forensic scientist could probably pin time of death to within a few days.

    1. That makes sense. Thanks, Tim.


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