Toxic Northern right whales

Already one of the rarest whales in the world, the Northern right whale is now challenged with high levels of industrial pollutants. Researchers at the University of Southern Maine’s Center for Toxicology and Environmental Health report that levels of chromium recently found in skin and blubber samples from seven whales are at such a level as to slow reproduction rates. John Wise, founder of the research center, believes the whales are exposed to the toxin through the air, “The whales are close enough to the shore that they’re getting essentially urban air coming off land. They suck in a lot more air than we do, so we’re thinking air pollution may be a bigger hazard than we ever thought about for whales.”

The Northern right whales spend summer months in the North Atlantic and in the Bay of Fundy feeding and spawning, and then migrate south to the warmer waters off Georgia and Florida. With only 300 or so whales remaining in the world, the recent swings in birth rates are alarming. Alongside other threats such as fishing gear entanglement and collisions with ships, this new challenge could be a devastating one for these giants in Atlantic waters.
Susan Viets

By Ocean Navigator