Field Physiology: Marine Mammal Autopsy


Come join us and have the experience of your life - while getting a University of Toronto and Physiology half credit. No exams/tests. Evaluated on performance and assignments. 

Coordinator: Dr. C. Wittnich

***requires a minimum of 12 students to run this course***

Course runs: May 14-25, 2018

Description: Interested in a career in medicine, veterinary medicine or the allied health care stream? Maybe you are a budding marine biologist or forensic pathologist! Whatever your future plans this physiology field course is for you. This course allows students the opportunity to go outside of the traditional university to get some hands on experiences on the diversity and adaptive nature of marine mammalian physiology/anatomy as it compares to human.

In a ‘CSI Toronto’ style learning environment you will experience unique detailed hands on anatomical exploration of a marine mammal (adult pinniped). This is a great peek at what awaits you in any one of the aforementioned career streams! As students you will participate in the necropsy and dissection, getting a firsthand look at the wonders of pinniped adaptations. Through this you will learn the animal’s state of health and general condition to determine what ultimately was the cause of death. This knowledge will assist us in better understanding these amazing creatures and how our environment is impacting them. You will learn the basics of how necropsies are carried out and learn how through careful observation and methodical study of the anatomic and physiologic aspects of the victim and, causes of death are determined. All course materials provided, space is limited to ensure hands on experience for all participants.

Applications should be done immediately as there are limited spaces available.

Prerequisites:  PSL201Y1Y/PSL280H1F/(PSL300H, PSL301H)/PSL302Y1Y/PSL380H1F/PSL480H1F/BIO252Y1Y

Cost: Course fee of ~$1,995 in addition to the university tuition.

Evaluation: This is a 2 week course that typically consists of one week hands on in the field and one week of group discussions on the findings and draft report preparation. Evaluation of workbooks - 20%, Field work 40%, Final report 40%

To Register: To ensure your space in this very popular course, please submit the PDF iconMarine Mammal Autopsy application form 2018.pdf (109.2 KB) with the non-refundable deposit of $500 (payable to the University of Toronto) to Eva Eng (Medical Sciences Building, room 3209).  


PDF iconMarine Mammal Autopsy application form 2018.pdf (109.2 KB)


“This was by far the best course we have taken at the university. We gained knowledge of the process of dissection, observation, note-taking, and necropsy report writing. Our small team, under the guidance of Dr. Wittnich, worked so well together. The necropsy became a CSI project as we sought to determine the state of the pinniped’s health and the probable cause of its death. It was a privilege to be allowed to work in the U of T lab facility and on such a majestic mammal as we conducted the necropsy. It was an incredible experience that has inspired us to pursue medical studies. We wish to thank Dr. Wittnich for the opportunity we were given. We would highly recommend this course”. - Mark Fraccaro & Luke Fraccaro (2013) 

"This course has absolutely been my most educational and enjoyable experience at the University of Toronto, and in my life's education in biology thus far. The level of involvement and understanding I gained about the fascinating machinery of the mammalian body (anatomy and physiology) by studying that of a marine mammal is exceptional. By taking this course, I was able to study the remarkably similar anatomy of a sea lion through an in-person, dissection-approach, a very educational and exciting opportunity that is not often available to undergraduate students. I learned about the interesting and complex interrelations between physiological systems, and the potentially consequential pathologies that could arise, often in unexpected areas. I also found this course to be remarkably efficient at teaching: I learned more about the anatomy and physiology of mammals in the two weeks of this course than what would usually be covered in a regular, semester-long course, and I had a great time doing so. The educational strategy organized by Dr. Wittnich, particularly the intensive dissection component, independent research, and illuminating in-class discussions made this course very effective and very fun. Overall, I believe that this is a course any student interested in physiology and anatomy should take. It will be a unique highlight of your undergraduate education in biology." - Ashraf Nahle (2012)

"I strongly recommend this course (PSL378) to anyone who wants to have a  hand-on experience on dissection, or anyone who simply wants to gain a deeper understanding of the physiology of an animal. Through this course I feel that all the knowledge I learned on paper became alive  and real, and the understanding to those concepts became more thorough  and clear. The necropsy experience was really exciting and rewarding,  as that huge adult male gray seal been dissected from skin to bone by our own hands under Dr. Wittnich's clear instruction and informative explanation. You really can learn as much as you like in this class.  The knowledge is all there, concrete and real, in front of your eyes  and makes you want to dive in and explore. I believe this course would  truly provide you a valuable learning experience that you will not  able to get from any other classes. Thank you so much for providing us such a valuable experience." - Lu Zheng 2009

"I can confidently say that PSL 378 was the highlight of my undergrad studies; not just because it was a field course, as I have taken other field courses, but because the way this course is structured with friendly, energetic and knowledgeable instructor and staff, who encourage you to bring up questions with no hesitation, and the amount of interesting material that is available for each student to learn, makes the whole experience of taking this course simply unique! If there is one suggestion I can give to my colleagues in any program (science or non-science), here at UofT, it would be this:  Don't graduate without taking the PSL 378 course!!” - Slavish Ganjbakhsh (2007)

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