A standardized system for preforming necropsy on beached killer whales had enabled scientist to boost their data collection for stranded orca by fifteen fold, according to a report by the University of California, Davis.

Researchers report that the new system provides a better structure for understanding orcas in all their stages of life.

"Because killer whales are apex predators and flagship conservation species, strandings are sad events," Joe Gaydos, co-developer of the orca necropsy system. "But this study confirms that if we make every effort to understand why the strandings occurred, we will ultimately improve the fate of the species." 

First put to use in 2004, the standardized system for collecting after-death data from stranded killer whales has increased the efficiency of data collection from two percent to 33 percent, UC Davis reports. Traditionally, only one in 50 stranded whale cadavers would be analyzed; now one in three get a full examination based on standard methods.

In studying the success of their system, the researchers examined beached killer whale data dating back to 1925. While killer whales are some of the most widely-distributed whales on Earth, very few dead ones are ever found. In the past 20 years, an average of 10 orca carcasses a year have washed ashore across the entire North Pacific Ocean, the report stated. Eighty-eight percent of orca strandings are fatal, the report added, noting that whale carcasses provide critical clues to the species' overall life history, genetics and health, as well as the causes of death   

"Each stranded orca should be viewed as a unique opportunity to enhance our understanding of this magnificent species," said co-author Stephen Raverty, a veterinary pathologist with the British Columbia Ministry of Agriculture

Though, when they are found, orca carcasses can be in advanced stages of decomposition, looking more like sea monsters than any sort of whale. A video of an orca carcass recently washed ashore in New Zealand beach generated a viral internet trend because the creature was so badly decomposed it resembled something otherworldly. 

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