MONITORING WHALE HEALTH
Monitoring the physiological status of a large free-swimming great whale is extremely difficult.
Exhaled breath condensate (EBC), the whales’ ‘blow’, could be a non-invasively collected matrix to be used to evaluate the physiological status of cetaceans.
This is a potential tool for wildlife managers and industry to monitor impacts of human activity around wild populations.
We believe that this offers enormous promise, as the ‘blow’ as an organic matrix composed of lipids, proteins and cells derived from the respiratory tract, has proven an extremely useful to detect hormones, DNA and a variety of microorganism.
On a broader scale, due to the extensive migratory behaviour and longevity, large whales are considered uniquely suitable ecosystem sentinels. By developing tools to help predict how large mammals will respond to climate change and variability we indirectly provide information about the health of their marine habitat.
There are tight links between mammals and their microbial symbionts.
Recent research in humans demonstrated the importance and mutuality of these commensal microbial communities, the microbiome, and its importance for a stable immune system and an animal’s general health. Respiratory illnesses in particular are a major cause of mortality in marine mammals. We propose that the respiratory microbiota, measured from the blow of free-swimming whales, could be a novel yet non-invasive indirect health proxy.