“It is a unique animal that can be worked on in Europe”

In recent weeks, biologist Lonneke IJsseldijk examined orcas that had washed up on Cadzand Beach in mid-October and died. The animal, which is more than five meters long and weighs about 2,000 kilograms, was taken to Utrecht for research. The struggling research team at the College of Veterinary Medicine wants to find out the cause of death, but also, for example, are investigating the diet and origin of the orca. This is done with other research institutes at home and abroad. The first results show that the orca had serious gum disease and inflammation in several organs and had not eaten for a while. We asked Lonneke if it was cool to investigate the orca and what are her best memories of Utrecht.

How special is being able to scan orca?

“Very special, because the last orca in the Netherlands ran aground in 2012. He was taken care of and he didn’t die. The time before that was in the 60’s, so it was a unique cut for us. When I got the message I thought it wasn’t right. It was a great day and I felt like it was. Unreal. As a scientist, this is very interesting: a stranded living animal eventually dies. How is that? I hope you find answers to all the questions.”

Is there more clarity than the first search results?

“The worst thing is that you can’t figure out why an animal is stranded. If you can’t explain it, it’s not satisfactory at all. In that case it was clearly already a very sick animal. There was nothing we could do. That animal died is.” The best and it’s good to be able to confirm that. She was there for a reason.”

To see if all infections had the same cause, I had organ transplants. What other tests do you do?

Research begins with an assessment with the naked eye: what do we see, for example, on the outside of an animal. During the autopsy we look at all the organs. Next, microscopy is an important step. Pathologists look at the cell level with a microscope. Organ parts are then transplanted and microbiologists can see if the bacteria are growing. We also perform several virus tests. There are no results yet. For example, we saw under a microscope that orcas had meningitis. how is that possible? What could be the pathogen? This is how the ball starts to roll and we also try to rule things out. It’s a mystery.”

How long will you investigate orca?

“Hopefully we’ll have a more complete picture in three weeks, but it depends on what’s found and whether that raises more questions. We now have a big piece of the puzzle and don’t know how far this will go. That’s how it is with any animal.” We also receive applications from other European universities, such as Portugal. They also want materials for research. It is a unique animal that can be worked on in Europe.”

What happens to orca remains after investigation?

“It doesn’t look like an orca anymore. During an autopsy, the animal detaches. When everything is externally recorded, the animal opens. We store tissues and various organ parts in our tissue bank. They then size the dice. We store tissues from all the cetaceans we study in The refrigerator is -80 degrees. The remaining organs and muscles and the bacon are burned. All the bones are cleaned and in the end the entire skeleton goes to Naturalis in Leiden.”

What do you like about this job?

“I started here as a volunteer when I was 16, in 2008. I loved working with marine mammals, but in the Netherlands there is not much work. In the end, I ended up with spotty research. I like that you have the time to solve a puzzle, go through something and take All the measurements you want. Even if sometimes you don’t find out why an animal washed ashore. Anyway, you can learn a lot from the animal. What do you see and how can you use this information to help the surviving population?”

What would you like to explore?

“Although the killer whale was very unique, stranding surveys are usually larger than this animal. Since 2008 we have been researching in Utrecht for washed-up cetaceans, especially porpoises, many of which live in the North Sea. We don’t want an animal dead. Never, but in places where animals live, it’s no surprise that you’ll find dead animals.The orca was the kind that I said, “It looks so special to me.” I didn’t expect we’d actually get it, because orca don’t live in the South North “.

What are your best memories of Utrecht?

“A year ago I got my PhD from the academy building in Domplein. I’ve been in college for ten years. It was a long way to get there, but defending your thesis in this building was a great experience. The building honors academic promotion. history there. I felt good there on Domplein.”

What is your dream home in Utrecht?

“One tall building with a garden in Witevrouwen, but especially Veeartsenijstraat. This is where the College of Veterinary Medicine was. There are very nice homes out there.”

And where to drink the best beer in Utrecht?

“This is of course at Café Olivier. I wasn’t a beer drinker until I went there once. There are so many options.”

What is your favorite place in Utrecht?

“Runs around the hoop. The best thing is to be able to walk around the city, and then also on a very beautiful road.”

What’s your favorite weekend in Utrecht like?

“First to the market in Vredenburg, then walk around the city and eat. Utrecht is a very relaxing city.”


“…the city where my research heart lies.”

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