Forensic Ultrasound for Whales

Ultrasound to help determine cause of death for whales

  • Fast, portable, safe method to help investigate whale deaths
  • Can be used where access for equipment is difficult
  • Quick response where time or resources are limited
  • Working to reduce marine debris

Ultrasound designed for large whale mortalities

Large whale mortality from ship strikes has been increasing with expanding shipping worldwide.  These strikes may be the result of increasing whale populations resulting from protected status or increasing shipping traffic and ship speed, and have important conservation implications for endangered whale populations.


In cases where whales are struck and then die at sea, external wounds may be lacking. In these cases, skeletal trauma seen at necropsy is usually needed for diagnosis.  Unfortunately, our ability to conduct examine an animal may be limited by the remote location of the carcass, carcass positioning on the ground or in the surf, weather conditions or a lack of resources (equipment or personnel) within an area.


To address this issue, we propose to develop a Large Whale Ultrasound (LWUS) to visualize boney structures of large whale carcasses, based on existing consumer-level sonar devices. Our goal is to modify a sonar device to visualize internal structures of whale carcasses to determine cause of death.


An additional application for the LWUS is to aid in retrieval of the wax ear plug. This plug sits deep within the ear canal, often under a meter of tissue. There has been increasing interest in retrieving the wax ear plug from dead baleen whales to determine age, toxin exposure, and other factors associated with the whale’s history.  Access to these structures can be difficult and the proposed tool would allow for visualization of bony structures to allow for a more targeted approach to the plug.

If you would like more information on our training program, or need help with entangled animals, please contact us.