Fishy business

For the past year I have been slowly collected dead things all in the name of science, well for my own animal skeletal reference collection actually.

This statement usually brings looks of disgust, but I’ve been surprised by a few that have the same level of morbid fascination as I do.

Gathering together an animal skeletal reference collection takes time, so far I have a few specimens found at the side of the road, the others I purchased from supermarkets for Sunday roast.

I first started with a home made maceration tank. This method works by using water at a constant temperature; I use an aquarium heater in a large plastic bucket with a lid. The maceration tank method was my first attempt, and I had a few pitfalls. My first mistake was failing to remove as much flesh as possible from the bones of the animal, which would have sped up the enzyme process to break down the proteins of the remaining muscle & ligament attachments. The second error was to leave the dead animal floating in stagnant warm water for over 3 weeks. When I came to empty the bucket I almost knocked myself out from the smell, it was rather potent. I had been warned by peers that this was a smelly process, and I won’t be making the same mistakes!

I have now tweaked my method, and I’m hoping to try again once I’ve found a suitable roadkill specimen. I only use roadkill, or animals that I have purchased from the butcher/supermarket.

In my shed at the moment I have a fish (from the fishmonger). Once home from the shops I stuffed it in the freezer. My freezer is tiny, and I can only keep items from the butcher/supermarket in it- otherwise I think my other half would have a fit if he found a squished roadkill amongst the frozen peas. So I’m saving up for a chest freezer. I froze this fish until I knew what to do with it- I have never ever gutted or filleted a fish before. Needless to say, it was an interesting experience, mostly because I had only partially defrosted the fish- which was great for removing the guts- a frozen popsicle of fishness (yuk). But it didn’t work so well when I tried to remove the skin and get to the very delicate ribs and vertebrae. I did have a trick up my sleeve- which I’m not going to reveal until I have checked that it’s worked 🙂

I decided to have another go with collecting fish bones, so during my last supermarket visit, I purchased 2 rainbow trout. I chose a different method this time- baking them in the oven. I’m not sure if I would use this method again, as the bones are greasy and I’m still waiting for the cartilage to break down from the spinal column. It took an age to pick out all the ribs- so in the end I went for a collection spanning the fish body, the vertebrae were easy to lift from the flesh. I now have these sitting in a margarine tub (without the marge) immersed in water to soak off the cartilage. Every couple of days I change the fishy water and replace with fresh. I’m hoping by next week I can use my tools on the bones to remove the soft cartilage.

The reason for the sudden interest in fish came about only a few weeks ago, when I found my first fishy vertebrae while doing some post-ex on an assemblage of animal bones. Instant fishy fascination!

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