Thar she blows! Carbon poles, nylon stockings and whale breath:
A novel method for baleen whale research is being developed. A collection device-made of nylon stockings and sewing hoops-fixed to the end of a 6 meter carbon pole enables us to collect hormone samples found in the blows (breaths) of the largest mammals on the planet. The sample can be collected right over the blowhole or by placing the device just behind and downwind in order to collect the best possible sample.
The hormone analysis will give us the sex and reproductive state of each whale sampled, otherwise very difficult to collect from in live free-ranging animals in the wild. Until now, very little has been known concerning their hormonal levels, therefore it is important to collect baseline data about their hormonal state in order to quantify changes in the environment that may induce stress to each individual and the populations they form.
The team in action
The 2010 sampling was more of a pilot project to test our technique, however, in 2011 and coming years we hope to collect large numbers of spout samples from humpback, fin, and blue whales. The protocols will be refined and in some ways redefined during the 2010-2011 winter off-season. This project will included acoustic sampling in areas of high cetacean presence within the St Lawrence to be used as baseline data, on order to determine if stress levels are higher in high ship traffic and oil/gas exploration areas.