Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Antique Whale Oil Provides Insights To Origin Of Pre-Industrial Chemicals

Date:
October 13, 2006
Source:
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Summary:
One of the last remaining New England whaling ships has provided unexpected insights into the origin of halogenated organic compounds (HOCs) that have chemical and physical properties similar to toxic PCBs and the pesticide DDT. HOCs are found everywhere and degrade slowly, but some are naturally produced and others are produced by humans.

One of the last remaining New England whaling ships has provided unexpected insights into the origin of halogenated organic compounds (HOCs) that have chemical and physical properties similar to toxic PCBs and the pesticide DDT. HOCs are found everywhere and degrade slowly, but some are naturally produced and others are produced by humans.

Related Articles


While large scale industrial production of HOCs did not begin until the late 1920s, scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in Massachusetts say naturally produced HOCs were bioaccumulating in marine mammals before major chemical companies like Monsanto, Dupont, and 3M were making HOCs for industrial uses. Their findings are reported in the online version of the journal Environmental Pollution.

In the past decade, scientists conducting routine analyses of animal and food samples began to discover unknown HOCs in their samples. Detective work led to their identities, but where these compounds were coming from has been a mystery. While some of these "unknown" compounds can be loosely traced to a possible industrial or natural source, the majority of these compounds have no known industrial or natural sources.

Study authors Emma Teuten and Christopher Reddy found their pre-industrial HOC samples in a most unlikely place: whale oil from the Charles W. Morgan, one of the last whaling ships operating during the 19th and early 20th century. Built in 1841 in New Bedford, Mass., the ship traveled the world looking for whales, often on voyages of three years or more. The ship is now preserved and on public display at Mystic Seaport in Mystic, Conn. The researchers received the whale oil sample from the New Bedford Whaling Museum.

Teuten and Reddy studied one sample of antique whale oil and found 11 HOCs. The results provide further evidence that naturally produced HOCs were accumulating in marine mammals long before the human-produced varieties.

"What is most interesting to us is that our colleagues still find these 'natural' compounds in recent samples from marine mammals, human breast milk, and commercially available fish in Canada," said study co-author Christopher Reddy, an associate scientist in the WHOI Marine Chemistry and Geochemistry Department. With co-author Emma Teuten, now at the University of Plymouth, England but previously at WHOI, Reddy studied one of the previously unknown HOCs and determined that it was from a natural source, not industrial pollution. The approach was time consuming, taking more than six months of lab work to complete, and required more than ten pounds of whale blubber.

"Our main goal now is to identify who is making them, why, and how toxic they are," said Teuten. "We suspect that many of these compounds were and are made by bacteria, plants, animals as chemical defense mechanisms."

Reddy says the properties of these natural compounds he and Teuten found in the archived whale oil are similar to those of industrial HOCs. "Most industrial HOCs do degrade in the environment, although very slowly. With adequate regulations regarding the manufacture and release of the industrial versions, we expect in the future that natural HOCs, rather than industrial ones, will again be the only HOCs found in animal and human tissue."

Reddy says these results should motivate science to consider the ecological role and bioactivity of these natural HOCs and how pre-exposure to these compounds prepared bacteria, plants, animals, and humans for industrial HOCs introduced during the past century. It is well known that organisms have evolved defensive mechanisms against chemicals in their environment, and until recently the sources of these chemicals were primarily natural. The importance of HOCs like those identified by Teuten and Reddy in the evolution of these defenses is not yet understood.

Industrial HOCs have been accumulating in the environment since the 1930's. Production of PCBs began in 1929, DDT in the late 1930s. "Knowing that the natural compounds have been produced for much longer times, we can use the natural sources as tools in studying the industrial ones," Teuten said. "For example, we may be able to use these natural HOCs as chemical tracers, just like dyes are used in medicine."

This study was supported by the National Science Foundation, WHOI Ocean Life Institute, and The Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation.


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. "Antique Whale Oil Provides Insights To Origin Of Pre-Industrial Chemicals." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 October 2006. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/10/061013105011.htm>.
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. (2006, October 13). Antique Whale Oil Provides Insights To Origin Of Pre-Industrial Chemicals. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/10/061013105011.htm
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. "Antique Whale Oil Provides Insights To Origin Of Pre-Industrial Chemicals." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/10/061013105011.htm (accessed December 20, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Matter & Energy News

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Building Google Into Cars

Building Google Into Cars

Reuters - Business Video Online (Dec. 19, 2014) Google's next Android version could become the standard that'll power your vehicle's entertainment and navigation features, Reuters has learned. Fred Katayama reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
AP Review: Nikon D750 and GoPro Hero 4

AP Review: Nikon D750 and GoPro Hero 4

AP (Dec. 19, 2014) What to buy an experienced photographer or video shooter? There is some strong gear on the market from Nikon and GoPro. The AP's Ron Harris takes a closer look. (Dec. 19) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Double-Amputee Becomes First To Move Two Prosthetic Arms With His Mind

Double-Amputee Becomes First To Move Two Prosthetic Arms With His Mind

Buzz60 (Dec. 19, 2014) A double-amputee makes history by becoming the first person to wear and operate two prosthetic arms using only his mind. Jen Markham has the story. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com
Navy Unveils Robot Fish

Navy Unveils Robot Fish

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Dec. 18, 2014) The U.S. Navy unveils an underwater device that mimics the movement of a fish. Tara Cleary reports. Video provided by Reuters
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:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Space & Time

Matter & Energy

Computers & Math

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