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?

The Gulf of Maine is located off the coasts of New Hampshire, Maine, and Massachusetts. It is a primary habitat for several whale species including humpback whales, fin whales, right whales and minke whales. We are studying each of these species.

Why are we studying it?

Whales are our closest relatives in the ocean and what they are exposed to, we will also likely experience. Whales are also key species in the marine ecosystem and are important to understand. Whales are large and long-lived marine mammals that may experience prolonged exposure to environmental contaminants. Additionally, several whale species such as the fin and right whales are endangered or threatened and their health may be impacted by exposure to environmental contaminants. We want investigate the levels of metals in their tissues to better understand the effects they may be having on whale health, on our health and on the health of the ecosystem. We also aim to evaluate potential risks of exposure to environmental contaminants to human health in our One Health approach using whales as a sentinel species.


What are we finding?

We have found in an initial study of North Atlantic right whales and fin whales that the whales in the Gulf of Maine have high levels of chromium(VI). We have also found that both particulate and soluble forms of chromium(VI) induce cell death and damage chromosomes in whale skin and lung cells. These outcomes support the possibility that chromium may cause reproductive and developmental issues in the whales and may cause whale lung cancer.


What does it mean?

Our data support the suggestion that chromium(VI) poses a potential health risk to whales who are exposed to it either through 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?

We are in the process of writing up a three year study of metal pollution in the Gulf of Maine. Here are some of our papers on metal pollution in whales from the Gulf of Maine and North Atlantic that we have already published.

  • 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.
  • Wise, Jr., J.P., Wise, J., Wise, C.F., Wise, S.S., Gianios, Jr., C., Xie, H., Thompson, W.D., Perkins, C. Falank, C. and Wise, Sr., J.P. Concentrations of the Genotoxic Metals, Chromium and Nickel, in Whales, Tarballs, Oil Slicks and Released Oil from the Gulf of Mexico in the Immediate Aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Crisis:  Is Genotoxic Metal Exposure Part of the Deepwater Horizon Legacy? Environmental Science and Technology, 48(5): 2997–3006 2014. PMID: 24552566. PMCID: PMC3983321.
  • Wise, C.F., Wise, S.S., Thompson, W.D., Perkins, C. and Wise, Sr., J.P. Chromium Is Elevated in Fin Whale (Balaenoptera physalus) Skin Tissue and Is Genotoxic to Fin Whale Skin Cells. Biological Trace Element Research, 166(1): 106-117, 2015. PMID: 25805270. PMCID: PMC4470778.