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The Bone Collectors

The day after our incredible find and collection of manatee bones at N’Tutu, Warren and I documented and sampled each one back at base. We were assisted by Gisela, an Angolan biology student who, along with a recent graduate named Mendez, came to Soyo as part of an agreement with the Angolan government to see our marine mammal research here firsthand. It was a great opportunity to share what we are doing with Angolans and also to learn from them about Angola.

Each bone was labeled with a unique ID number, photographed with a measuring tape to document its size, and entered into a database that describes basic information such as the type of bone (rib, sternum, etc.). Warren got a hacksaw and a vice, and we went to work cutting samples from each bone, recording its ID and individually packaging each one. Between each sample the hacksaw blade was washed with bleach to avoid contaminating different samples. Huge thanks to Bob Bonde and Ginger of UF, who emailed me fantastic advice about where to sample each type of bone in order to have the best possibility of getting good DNA for genetics. Some bones were pretty deteriorated from being partially buried in the mangroves or just old and weathered, but hopefully most will yield useable DNA. Warren deserves a very special gold star for cutting the vast majority of bones- I really appreciated the help and enthusiasm. The process took us all day, 2 hacksaw blades and a lot of plastic cling wrap. Now the samples are stored at Soyo until we can get an export permit to ship them to the USA for analysis at UF (this will be part of my PhD research).

Hacksawing through a jawbone. We tried to keep the best-preserved bones as intact as possible.

Warren saws as Gisela and I package and label cut samples.

Warren shows off the days work… a bag full of individual samples and some of the original bones.

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