Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Whale earwax used to determine contaminant exposure in whales

Date:
September 23, 2013
Source:
Baylor University
Summary:
A novel technique has been developed for reconstructing contaminant and hormone profiles using whale earplugs to determine, for the first time, lifetime chemical exposures and hormone profiles, from birth to death, for an individual whale. This information has not been previously attainable.

The male blue whale whose earplug was harvested for the study.
Credit: Michelle Berman-Kowalewskic, Ph.D., Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, Santa Barbara, Calif.

Baylor University professors Stephen Trumble, Ph.D., and Sascha Usenko, Ph.D., have developed a novel technique for reconstructing contaminant and hormone profiles using whale earplugs, determining--for the first time--lifetime chemical exposures and hormone profiles--from birth to death--for an individual whale, information that was previously unattainable.

Related Articles


Using a blue whale's earplug, Trumble and Usenko were able to extract and analyze the stress hormone cortisol, testosterone, organic contaminants such as pesticides and flame retardants, and mercury, demonstrating that both man-made and endogenous chemicals are recorded and archived in whale earwax.

Their research findings appear in the current issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America and is available online.

"Scientists in the past have used this waxy matrix as an aging tool, similar to counting tree rings. Then, the question arose: Could whale earwax chronologically archive chemicals, such as man-made pollutants?" said Usenko, assistant professor of environmental science in Baylor's College of Arts and Sciences.

Over the past two years, Trumble and Usenko developed analytical methods capable of answering that very question.

"The type of information we can derive from these earplugs along with our methodology is exceptionally valuable. There is nothing like it. It really should be classified as a new field of research," Usenko said.

Historically, scientists have used whale blubber to determine hormone and chemical exposure, but that method only provides information over short, finite periods of time and can be difficult to obtain and cost-prohibitive.

"Whales are free-ranging animals and you can't get these types of profiles or information on free-ranging animals in any part of the world. This has never been done before," said Trumble, assistant professor of biology in Baylor's College of Arts and Sciences.

With these new data, the professors are able to assess the human impact on individual whales and multiple generations, as well as marine ecosystems.

"You have this 100-year-old question: How are we impacting these animals? There is ship traffic, environmental noise, climate change and contaminants. Now, we are able to provide definitive answers by analyzing whale earwax plugs," Usenko said.

In addition to using whale earplugs to determine whales' lifetime exposure to chemicals and environmental pollutants, the plugs provide time-specific biological information about whales.

"Our research was able to improve upon estimates of sexual maturity for blue whales. Previous estimates provided a 10-year range of maturity and we have been able to pinpoint exactly when the whale in the study hit sexual maturity. Our research was able to shed new light on the life cycle of whales," Trumble said.

Their new methodology will enable them to gain a deeper understanding of whales today and those that lived decades ago.

"We are able to go back in time and analyze archived museum earplug samples that were harvested in the 1950s and examine critical issues such as the effects of pollution, use of sonar in the oceans and the introduction of specific chemicals and pesticides in the environment over long periods of time," Usenko said. "There are a myriad of ways that we can analyze plugs for a better understanding of marine ecosystems and these endangered animals. There is so much additional information that can be mined from studying earplugs."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Baylor University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. S. J. Trumble, E. M. Robinson, M. Berman-Kowalewski, C. W. Potter, S. Usenko. Blue whale earplug reveals lifetime contaminant exposure and hormone profiles. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2013; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1311418110

Cite This Page:

Baylor University. "Whale earwax used to determine contaminant exposure in whales." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 September 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/09/130923143640.htm>.
Baylor University. (2013, September 23). Whale earwax used to determine contaminant exposure in whales. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 25, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/09/130923143640.htm
Baylor University. "Whale earwax used to determine contaminant exposure in whales." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/09/130923143640.htm (accessed October 25, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Deep Sea 'mushroom' Could Be Early Branch on Tree of Life

Deep Sea 'mushroom' Could Be Early Branch on Tree of Life

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Oct. 24, 2014) Miniature deep sea animals discovered off the Australian coast almost three decades ago are puzzling scientists, who say the organisms have proved impossible to categorise. Academics at the Natural History of Denmark have appealed to the world scientific community for help, saying that further information on Dendrogramma enigmatica and Dendrogramma discoides could answer key evolutionary questions. Jim Drury has more. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Black Bear Cub Goes Sunday Shopping

Black Bear Cub Goes Sunday Shopping

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Oct. 23, 2014) Price check on honey? Bear cub startles Oregon drugstore shoppers. Rough Cut (no reporter narration). Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Dances With Wolves in China's Wild West

Dances With Wolves in China's Wild West

AFP (Oct. 23, 2014) One man is on a mission to boost the population of wolves in China's violence-wracked far west. The animal - symbol of the Uighur minority there - is under threat with a massive human resettlement program in the region. Duration: 00:41 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Breakfast Debate: To Eat Or Not To Eat?

Breakfast Debate: To Eat Or Not To Eat?

Newsy (Oct. 23, 2014) Conflicting studies published in the same week re-ignited the debate over whether we should be eating breakfast. 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:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

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