Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Chemical Compounds Found In Whale Blubber Are From Natural Sources, Not Industrial Contamination

Date:
February 18, 2005
Source:
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Summary:
Chemicals found in whale blubber, and initially suspected of being from industrial sources, have turned out to be naturally occurring, raising questions about the accumulation of both natural and industrial compounds in marine life.

Emma Teuten displays some of the 22 pounds of whale blubber, packed in a black trash bag, used for the study.
Credit: Photo by Tom Kleindinst ©WHOI

Chemicals found in whale blubber, and initially suspected of being from industrial sources, have turned out to be naturally occurring, raising questions about the accumulation of both natural and industrial compounds in marine life.

A new study in the journal Science by researchers Emma Teuten, Li Xu, and Christopher Reddy at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) is causing researchers to rethink the sources and fates of many chemical compounds in the environment.

It has been known for decades that industrially produced compounds such as polybrominated diphenyl ethers or PBDEs, used as flame retardants in furniture and clothing, accumulate in human and animal tissues. Structurally similar compounds, methoxylated polybrominated diphenyl ethers or MeO-BDEs, have recently been found in fish and marine mammals and are a new class of bioaccumulated compounds. In some samples, the MeO-BDEs are among the most abundant compounds in the environment after DDE, a breakdown product of the pesticide DDT, and several polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs, but their source has remained unknown.

Teuten, lead author of the study and a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Marine Chemistry and Geochemistry at WHOI, isolated two chemicals from 10 kilograms (about 22 pounds) of whale blubber from a True's beaked whale found dead at False Cape, Virginia, in November 2003. The blubber was supplied to Teuten and colleagues by the Virginia Marine Science Museum, which removed the whale from the beach to look for clues to its death.

After six months of painstaking lab work to remove fats and other material to get to the compounds of interest in their most pure form, Teuten had about 1 milligram (less than one ounce) to determine if the source was natural or human-produced. The researchers used the National Ocean Sciences Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (NOSAMS) facility at WHOI, a precision carbon-dating laboratory, to analyze the sample. Natural sources have a detectable radiocarbon signal, human-produced sources from petrochemicals do not.

"It has been assumed that industrially produced compounds accumulate in animals, but our results show that natural products do as well," Teuten said. "Did the whale we studied accumulate these compounds from its diet of squid, and if so, where did the squid get them? Animals have been exposed to industrial compounds for years, and having natural compounds of similar chemical structure may help toxicologists explain how and why enzymes have the ability to metabolize compounds like PCBs."

For Teuten and colleagues, the study was a challenge from the start. They had to request and receive a permit from the National Marine Fisheries Service, which limits the "take" of marine mammals for research. With permit in hand, they contacted researchers at marine mammal stranding networks to alert them that they needed a sample the next time one became available. The True's beaked whale blubber arrived in January 2004, and months of lab work, countless dulled knives and several blenders, and an array of chemical procedures followed.

"It was like looking for a needle in a haystack," said Reddy, an associate scientist in the Marine Chemistry and Geochemistry Department. "This type of study had not been done before. In a sense we are chemical detectives. Our goal was to determine whether these compounds were industrially derived or naturally produced, and in this one sample we found they are not derived from flame retardants but are coming from nature. But where do they come from? Our next steps are to study other animals and other suspect compounds."

Since the team's findings show that very similar chemical compounds are made by humans and naturally by many plants and animals, Teuten and Reddy say many more questions need to be answered, among them whether these natural compounds are affecting the health of whales or other animals that accumulate them.

Reddy says a similar approach can be taken to determine the sources of chloroform in the atmosphere, something many have debated. "It would require many thousands or millions of liters of air to get enough chloroform to make a radiocarbon measurement, but with enough time and patience it can be done."

###

The study was supported by the National Science Foundation, The Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation, Inc., the J. Seward Johnson Fund, and the WHOI Ocean Life Institute.

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) is a private, independent marine research and engineering and higher education organization located in Falmouth, MA. Its primary mission is to understand the oceans and their interaction with the Earth as a whole, and to communicate a basic understanding of the ocean's role in the changing global environment. Established in 1930 on a recommendation from the National Academy of Sciences, the Institution operates the U.S. National Deep Submergence Facility that includes the deep-diving submersible Alvin and the remotely operated vehicle Jason II, a fleet of global ranging ships and smaller coastal vessels, and a variety of other tethered and autonomous underwater vehicles. WHOI is organized into five departments, interdisciplinary institutes and a marine policy center, and conducts a joint graduate education program with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. "Chemical Compounds Found In Whale Blubber Are From Natural Sources, Not Industrial Contamination." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 February 2005. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/02/050213132247.htm>.
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. (2005, February 18). Chemical Compounds Found In Whale Blubber Are From Natural Sources, Not Industrial Contamination. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 22, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/02/050213132247.htm
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. "Chemical Compounds Found In Whale Blubber Are From Natural Sources, Not Industrial Contamination." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/02/050213132247.htm (accessed July 22, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Michigan Plant's Goal: Flower and Die

Michigan Plant's Goal: Flower and Die

AP (July 22, 2014) — An 80-year-old agave plant, which is blooming for the first and only time at a University of Michigan conservatory, will die when it's done (July 22) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
San Diego Zoo Welcomes New, Rare Rhino Calf

San Diego Zoo Welcomes New, Rare Rhino Calf

Reuters - US Online Video (July 21, 2014) — An endangered black rhino baby is the newest resident at the San Diego Zoo. Sasha Salama reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Shark Sightings a Big Catch for Cape Tourism

Shark Sightings a Big Catch for Cape Tourism

AP (July 21, 2014) — A rise in shark sightings along the shores of Chatham, Massachusetts is driving a surge of eager vacationers to the beach town looking to catch a glimpse of a great white. (July 21) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
$23.6 Billion Awarded To Widow In Smoking Lawsuit

$23.6 Billion Awarded To Widow In Smoking Lawsuit

Newsy (July 20, 2014) — Cynthia Robinson claims R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company hid the health and addiction risks of its products, leading to the death of her husband in 1996. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins