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Forensic Analysis of Aquatic Organisms on Objects, e.g. Ship Hulls and Bones

We can advise shipping companies on the fouling organisms found on vessels, usually barnacles and tubeworms, and where they may have originated. This can be important in claims relating to fouling and subsequent increase in fuel usage during a voyage. Some barnacles occur mainly in cold temperate waters, whilst others, for example the striped barnacle Amphibalanus amphitrite occur in tropical and warm temperate waters. The growth rate of barnacles or tubeworms that were alive at the time of collection can also be assessed to give an indication when the specimens may have settled.

Our long experience in examining species attached to stones and shells can be applied to the study of species found on other materials, for example bones. We have information on the likely timing of colonisation (i.e. the main reproductive period) of common marine organisms in temperate European waters. The main groups of interest are barnacles, tubeworms and encrusting bryozoans. We also have information on their growth rates. The technique is particularly useful if the amount of marine growths are relatively limited. We have advised the police on the amount of time a skull was likely to have been in the water, and estimated the time taken for skeletonisation. We would be happy to assist any police force that requires an estimate of the time that an object has been in seawater. To date we haven't tried these methods in freshwater, but even here it is likely that useful information could be obtained.

Dr Smith is listed on the Police National Crime Agency database for Expert Advisors.

Useful References

Anderson, GS and Hobischak, NR (2004). Decomposition of carrion in the marine environment in British Columbia, Canada. International Journal of Legal Medicine, Volume 118, 206-209.

Barnes, H and Powell, HT (1953). The growth of Balanus balanoides (L.) and Balanus crenatus Brug. under varying conditions of submersion. Journal of the Marine Biological Association Volume 32, 107-127.

Castric-Fey, A., 1983. Recruitment, growth and longevity of Pomatoceros triqueter and Pomatoceros lamarckii (Polychaeta, Serpulidae) on experimental panels in the Concarneau area, South Brittany. Annales de l'Institut Oceanographique, Paris, Volume 59, 69-91.

Cotter, E, O’Riordan, RM & Myers, AA (2003). Recruitment patterns of serpulids (Annelida: Polychaeta) in Bantry Bay, Ireland. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom, 83 (1): 41-48.

Robinson, M and Tully, O (2000). Dynamics of a subtidal population of the porcellanid crab Pisidia longicornis (Decapoda: Crustacea). Journal of the Marine Biological Association, Volume 80: 75-83.

Forensic Taphonomy. The Postmortem Fate of Human Remains. Edited by Haglund, WD and Sorg, MH; CRC Press 1997. In particular:

Chapter 37. Forensic Taphonomy in Marine Contexts.Sorg, MH et al.

Chapter 38. Human Aquatic Taphonomy in the Monterey Bay Area. Boyle, S et al.

Chapter 39. Burials at Sea. London, MR et al.

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