HASH(0xbed3e0)

Researchers using ‘whale breath’ to study endangered orcas off B.C. coast

B.C. researcher uses 'whale breath' to study orcas

VANCOUVER — Researchers are hoping the exhaled breath of killer whales living off the coast of British Columbia can provide some insight into the endangered animals’ health.

Post-mortem examinations of southern resident killer whales have found that a number of the animals had signs of pneumonia and scientists wanted to find out what organisms might be responsible, said Stephen Raverty, an adjunct professor at the University of British Columbia.

The orcas that live and travel through the Salish Sea have been studied for more than four decades, but the group’s numbers have fallen in recent years.

They were listed as endangered in 2005 and the Washington state-based Center for Whale Research said there were 78 southern resident killer whales left as of December 2016.

Researchers believe the animals are “inadvertently being exposed to potential disease agents” in the surface water, Raverty said, so they set out to capture some of the air and droplets expelled when the whales exhale through their blowholes, using an 18 foot long pole with petri dishes attached.

“This is essentially a non-invasive technique where we can get a glimpse into the overall health of these whales,” Raverty said.

The researchers found a variety of bacteria and fungi in the samples, including some that are thought to have caused respiratory diseases in whales and other cetaceans.

Other organisms captured are also found in diseases in animals and humans on land, Raverty said, noting that it’s not clear how the pathogens got into the whales’ environment.

The scientists also discovered that some of the bacteria in the whales’ breath samples was resistant to antibiotics used in both human and veterinary medicine, he said.

Raverty and his colleagues recently published a study on their whale breath research in Nature Scientific Reports, and they are now hoping the samples can be used to develop a baseline and track how the whales’ health changes over time.

“These (samples) helped us to develop a sort of individual profile of what the animals may carry as a normal biota,” he said.

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is currently working on creating unique profiles for each of the southern resident killer whales, detailing their markings and health. Raverty said he hopes results of the breath sample study will be included, too.

Knowing the whales’ current health will help evaluate the impacts of any “catastrophic events” like oil spills in the future, he said.

“These animals are really unique in terms of being environmental sentinels of what might be going on in the marine habitat.”

Research on the whale breath samples continues, Raverty said. Some scientists are now working to determine precisely which organisms are in the samples, and others are using the expelled breath to examine the levels of stress and reproductive hormones in the animals.

Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press

Just Posted

B.C. freestyle skier wins gold

Cassie Sharpe of Comox shines in the halfpipe

No decision yet from Sagmoen bail hearing

Provincial court judge is expected to decide next week if Silver Creek man to remain in custody

RCMP officer officially cleared in shooting incident

Police watchdog concludes Salmon Arm officer’s use of force was justified

Suspect faces charges of possession of stolen property, weapon

Two people arrested outside Shaw Centre in Salmon Arm Saturday, woman released without charge

CSRD increases building inspections in the Shuswap

New inspections to take place effective March 5.

Hope raises thousands for two Kelowna charities

The event Hope in Her Eyes managed to raise more than $17,000 for two Kelowna non-profits

How to keep local news visible in your Facebook feed

Facebook has changed the news feed to emphasize personal connections. You might see less news.

Virtue and Moir end ice dance careers with Olympic gold

Virtue and Moir’s gold medal win at the Olympics makes them the world’s most decorated figure skaters

Canadians find living in small spaces teaches creativity

Canadian families choosing to live in small spaces to bring closeness to children

NDP Health Minister calls to offer woman seat on Interior Health Board

Joyce Beddow-Buckland of Ashcroft was surprised by the call, and accepted the offer.

SAR suspends search for missing man at Sun Peaks

RCMP will continue to search for a missing man near Kamloops but SAR has suspended their role

Vagina Monologues hits the Kelowna stage this week

Okanagan production set to target a hot topic: vaginas

Lottery will help save children’s lives

Each ticket gets you a chance to win a lot of money, while helping a lot of kids

Submit nominations for 2018 Okanagan College Alumni Awards

Deadline for nominations is Wednesday, March 14

Most Read