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 right whales including the North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis) and Southern right whale (Eubalaena australis) in the ‘One’ environmental health approach to gain an overview of global health investigating the health of humans, wildlife, and ecosystem health. Right whales are endangered and can provide insight into global health as a wildlife species. 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 these species as models 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 North Atlantic right whale is one of the most severely endangered large whales, with only about 400 animals left in their population. The underlying causes for the inability of these animals to recover in population size are uncertain and are likely to be a combination of factors. Thus, one possible factor contributing to the reduced population is the effect of environmental chemicals on the reproductive tissues of North Atlantic right whales. By contrast, the Southern right whales are a healthy population with several thousand members. This difference in health strongly implicates an environmental factor in the decline of the North Atlantic right whale population. Right 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 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 right whale populations and determine if right whales can serve as indicators of the threat of environmental contaminants to human health.


What are we finding?

We found high chromium (VI) levels in the North Atlantic right whales, but low levels in Southern right whales. All metals were low in the Southern right whales. We found in an initial study of North Atlantic right whale cell lines that both particulate and soluble forms of chromium (VI) induce cell death and damage chromosomes in right whale testis, lung and skin cells. These outcomes support the possibility that chromium (VI) may cause reproductive and developmental issues in the right whales and may cause right whale lung cancer.


What does it mean?

Our data support the suggestion that chromium (VI) poses a potential health risk to right whales who are exposed to it through either inhalation of chromium (VI) or other routes such as diet. Furthermore, because our data indicate that chromium (VI) damages chromosomes, chromium (VI) exposure may contribute to the development of cancer, developmental abnormalities and failure to reproduce.


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.