Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Feces from entangled North Atlantic right whales reveals 'sky-high' stress levels

November 30, 2017

In a new study published this week in Endangered Species Research, North Atlantic right whale scientists found that whales who undergo prolonged entanglements in fishing gear endure "sky-high hormone levels," indicating severe stress, which researchers discovered using a pioneering technique of examining scat from live, entangled, and dead whales over 15 years.

"For the first time, we can get hormone levels on not just dead, but living whales," said Dr. Rosalind Rolland, D.V.M., the study's lead author and a senior scientist in the Ocean Health and Marine Stress Lab at the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life at the New England Aquarium who developed this technique. "These levels show stress from extreme physical trauma. It's an animal welfare issue."

For the highly endangered North Atlantic right whale population, it was a devastating summer with 16 deaths - 12 in Canada and four in the US - due to vessel strikes and entanglements for a population that now only numbers around 450. For five of the dead whales, Rolland and the Anderson Cabot Center team were able to use this critical fecal stress hormone test to investigate the timeline of death. The levels of hormone indicated if whales died quickly or over several days or more. "This is one more tool in the toolbox for determining cause of death," she said.

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