What are we studying? | Why are we studying? | What are we finding? | What does it mean? | Where can I read more?

What are we studying?

We study bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus) a close cousin of the North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis) with our ‘One’ environmental health approach to gain an overview of global health investigating the health of humans, wildlife, and ecosystem health. Bowheads live in the Arctic Ocean. They are large, and long-lived species that spends their entire life in the ocean where they may be exposed to environmental contaminants. Thus, we use the bowhead as model species to understand the threat of metal pollution to them, to monitor the health of the oceans, and to understand human health. To accomplish this we employed several methods: 1) We collect whale tissue samples to measure metal levels including chromium. 2) We establish primary cell lines to measure chromium induced cell death and genetic changes and compare those outcomes to the same endpoints in human and other wildlife species cell lines. 3) We measure DNA and chromosome damage in fresh whale samples to determine if damage occurs in the individual and to monitor the population.

Why are we studying it?

The bowhead whale population is slowly recovering from commercial whaling. Bowhead whales may experience prolonged exposures to environmental contaminants such as chromium which is a ubiquitous global contaminant of the marine environment primarily as a result of human activities. While chromium (VI) has been identified as a known human carcinogen, the health effects in marine species are poorly understood. We aim to identify the risk of environmental contaminant to the bowhead whale populations and determine if bowhead whales can serve as indicators of the threat of environmental contaminants to human health.

The bowhead also has a remarkably long lifespan estimated at 200 years or more. A long lifespan has been associated with better DNA repair. The idea being the longer one lives the more potential damage to DNA and the need to be able to repair it more effectively. We are investigating whether bowheads have evolved better responses to chemical-induced DNA damage.


What are we finding?

Our bowhead data are currently being prepared for publication. We expect to have some results to report soon.


What does it mean?

Our results are still pending, however, we anticipate that they will shed light on the impact of pollution on the decline and the recovery of the bowheads and whether they have any novel adaptations at the cellular level.


Where can I read more?
  • Godard, C.A.J., Wise, S.S., Kelly, R.S., Goodale, B., Kraus, S., Romano, T., O’Hara, T. and Wise, Sr., J.P. Benzo[a]pyrene Cytotoxicity in Right Whale (Eubalaena glacialis) Skin, Testis and Lung Cell Lines. Marine Environmental Research, 62: S20-S24, 2006. PMID: 16698075.
  • Wise, Sr., J.P., Wise, S.S, Kraus, S. Shaffiey, F., Grau, M., Li Chen, T., Perkins, C., Thompson, W.D., Zheng, T., Zhang, Y., Romano, T. and O’Hara, T. Hexavalent Chromium Is Cytotoxic and Genotoxic to the North Atlantic Right Whale (Eubalaena glacialis) Lung and Testes Fibroblasts. Mutation Research, 650: 30–38, 2008. PMID: 18006369.
  • Wise, Sr., J.P., Wise, S.S., Goodale, B.C., Shaffiey, F., Kraus, S. and Walter, R.B. Medaka (Oryzias latipes) as a Sentinel Species for Aquatic Animals: Medaka Cells Exhibit a Similar Genotoxic Response as North Atlantic Right Whale Cells. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology, Part C, 149: 210–214, 2009. PMID: 18930840. PMCID: PMC4524507.
  • Ierardia, J.L., Manciab, A., McMillan, J., Lundqvist, M.L., Romano, T.A., Wise, Sr., J.P., Plant, A. and Warr, G.W. Sampling the Skin Transcriptome of the North Atlantic Right Whale. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology Part D: Genomics and Proteomics, 4: 154–158, 2009. PMID: 20403765.
  • Li Chen, T., Wise, S.S., Kraus, S., Shaffiey, F., Grau, M., Thompson, W.D., Zheng, T., Zhang, Y., Romano, T., O’Hara, T. and Wise, Sr., J.P. Particulate Hexavalent Chromium Is Cytotoxic and Genotoxic to the North Atlantic Right Whale (Eubalaena glacialis) Lung and Skin Fibroblasts. Environmental and Molecular Mutagenesis, 50: 387-393, 2009. PMID: 19230002.
  • Li Chen, T., Wise, S.S., Holmes, A., Shaffiey, F., Wise, Jr., J.P., Thompson, W.D., Kraus, S. and Wise, Sr., J.P. Cytotoxicity and Genotoxicity of Hexavalent Chromium in Human and North Atlantic Right Whale (Eubalaena glacialis) Lung Cells. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology – Part C: Toxicology & Pharmacology, 150(4): 487-494, 2009. PMID: 19632355. PMCID: PMC4048704.
  • Martino, J. Wise, S.S., Perkins, C., Sironi, M. and Wise, Sr., J.P. Metal Levels in Southern Right Whales (Eubalaena australis) from Península Valdés, Argentina. Journal of Environmental and Analytical Toxicology, 3(6): 190-195, 2013. doi: 10.4172/2161-0525.1000190.