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Images: Whale Necropsy at Sea

An airplane pilot's view of mako, blue, and dusky sharks, as well as seabirds, feeding on a decomposing finback whale, first seen floating about 24 miles southeast of Nantucket on Sept. 9. The pilot estimated about 200 sharks near the whale during his flight Sept. 11. That afternoon, all but four or five of the sharks scattered when the research vessel Tioga arrived with marine scientists interested in studying the whale. (Photo by Tim Voorheis, Gulf of Maine Productions)

A slick of fishy-smelling oil trailed seven to eight miles from the dead whale. "It was loaded with sharks. Makos. Blue sharks. A few dusky sharks. All sizes, including a lot of big ones," said pilot Tim Voorheis, who was flying Sept. 11, the day of the whale's necropsy. (Photo by Tim Voorheis, Gulf of Maine Productions)

The female finback whale stretched as long as the 60-foot research vessel Tioga. From its length, biologist Michael Moore estimated that the animal was young, between 13 and 16 years old. (Photo by Tim Voorheis, Gulf of Maine Productions)

Floating upside down, the whale's belly burned from the sun. Sea birds pecked the exposed skin. (Photo courtesy of Michael Moore, WHOI)

Note the red paint on the right side of this shark, caused by rubbing against the side of the research vessel. (Photo by Ken Houtler, WHOI)

Red paint was visible on this shark's nose and back after it brushed by the side of the research vessel. (Photo by Pete Duley, NOAA)

Gas buildup from decomposition caused the whale to bob like an overinflated raft. To relieve the gas pressure, biologist Michael Moore made a series of deep, foot-long cuts called deflationary stabs (shown at center). This slowly released the gas, causing the whale to flatten yet remain buoyant. Moore made a 30-foot long incision starting above the whale?s fluke, or tail. (Photo courtesy of Michael Moore, WHOI)

"Once deflated and slit, the carcass was easy to work in...it was like a shallow boat," WHOI biologist Michael Moore said. A wetsuit and rubber gloves and booties offered some protection. Moore said working on the whale, rather than from the research vessel, made cutting and taking samples easier. (Photo by Pete Duley, NOAA)

Though biologist Michael Moore still wasn't minty-smelling even after a wash by Tioga's captain Ken Houtler, the clean spray did remove some of the whale's fluids. Moore holds onto a safety line that secured his harness to the boat. (Photo by Sarah Herzig, Cape Cod Stranding Network)

Ian Hanley, a crew member on Tioga, got creative with earplugs when overwhelmed by the smell of decaying whale during the necropsy Sept. 11. (Photo courtesy of Michael Moore, WHOI)