We found chromium and nickel concentrations ranged from 0. We found nickel concentrations ranged from 1. Mean tissue concentrations were significantly higher than those found in whales collected around the world prior to the spill. Given the capacity of these metals to damage DNA, their presence in the oil, and their elevated concentrations in whales, we suggest that metal exposure is an important understudied concern for the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.
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Figure 1. Sperm whales sampled in the Gulf of Mexico have elevated Ni concentrations, and animals with higher concentrations occur closer to the accident epicenter. A Individual data measurements shown by whale. The red line indicates the mean concentration observed in these whales. B Map showing the location of individual whales by color coded Ni concentrations compared to the global mean of our previous study. Note that the majority of the highest concentrations were found in areas that were covered with oil.
Figure 2. Ni skin concentrations in Gulf of Mexico whales are higher than in sperm whales from around the globe. A The mean Ni skin concentration in Gulf of Mexico whales compared to overall mean concentration for whales in the global set. Mean Ni concentrations were B The mean Ni skin concentration in Gulf of Mexico whales purple bar compared to individual mean concentrations for each region in the global set blue bars. C Mean concentrations of Ni in sperm whale skin samples from the Gulf of Mexico and the global means in sperm whale skin samples by gender and approximate age.
Age was evaluated by approximate size of the whale. Figure 3. Sperm whales sampled in the Gulf of Mexico have elevated Cr concentrations, and animals with higher concentrations occur closer to the accident epicenter. B Map showing the location of individual whales by color-coded Cr concentrations compared to the global mean of our previous study.
Figure 4. Cr skin concentrations in Gulf of Mexico sperm whales compared to sperm whales from around the globe. A The mean Cr skin concentration in Gulf of Mexico whales compared to overall mean concentration for whales in the global set. Mean Cr concentrations were B The mean Cr skin concentration in Gulf of Mexico whales purple bar compared to individual mean concentrations for each region in the global set orange bars.
Gulf whales were higher than those from all regions except for the Bahamas, Kiribati, or Seychelles.
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C Mean concentrations of Cr in sperm whale skin samples from the Gulf of Mexico and the global means in sperm whale skin samples by gender and approximate age. Work was conducted under NMFS permit no. Wise, Sr.
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WNF J. We thank Alana Alexander and Scott Baker for technical assistance with the genotyping. Vincent of the University of Alabama for providing the tar balls from Florida and Alabama. Finally, we thank all the volunteers who conducted fundraising and outreach activities and provided whatever donations they could to support us. This article references 51 other publications.
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ACS AuthorChoice. Article Views Altmetric -. Citations PDF 5 MB. Abstract High Resolution Image. The Gulf of Mexico is the ninth largest body of water on Earth and boasts a variety of rich and diverse ecosystems. The coastal habitats exhibit large, diverse communities of nesting seafowl, sea turtles, and fish nurseries, while the offshore habitats support a variety of deep sea corals, fish spawning grounds, rich sport and commercial fisheries, and residential cetacean species.
Despite the apparent differences in these ecosystems, they are intricately intertwined and depend on each other for sustainability; for example, the deep sea corals require organic debris from the surface for food, and pelagic sea turtles need the clean sandy beaches for nesting. In addition, the Gulf of Mexico provides certain ecosystem services that are essential for human health and survival. Ecosystem services are simply defined as contributions from the environment that support, sustain, and enrich human life.
Nonetheless, there is clear and important commercial value in the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem from commercial and sport fishing, tourism, and rich cultural heritage. There are offshore drilling units worldwide, and units are in the Gulf of Mexico. The resulting size of this spill was estimated to cover as much as 75, km 2 and to directly impact over km of coastline. This crisis was by far the worst oil spill in a marine environment in U. In response to the crisis, efforts focused on getting rid of the oil as quickly as possible.
Measures taken included application of over 1. In the aftermath of the crisis, there has been significant federal, scientific, and public concern regarding the toxicological impacts of the hydrocarbons in the oil and the possible toxicity of the chemical dispersants.
To assess the threat of oil-associated metals to humans and marine species, we studied the two populations of whales considered to be residential in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Hence, these populations of whales are at high risk for exposure to the spill and to Cr and Ni in the oil. Although the exposure route of whales to heavy metals is not well understood, studies show that they can accumulate in whale tissue and cause toxicity. Materials and Methods.
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We collected skin biopsies from whales in the northern Gulf of Mexico in the immediate aftermath of the spill over a 4 month period from August to November Our research platform was the research vessel Odyssey , a foot motor-sailer ketch. The Odyssey is equipped to acoustically track sperm whales using an underwater hydrophone array and RainbowClick software. Efforts to find and track whales acoustically were maintained constantly around the clock while at sea.
In addition, the Odyssey has three outlook platforms to search for and track whales visually; on top of the pilot house approximately 10 feet off the deck , halfway up the main mast approximately 30 feet off the deck , and near the top of the main mast approximately 50 feet off the deck. Whale watch consisted of 1—2 h shifts searching for whales from one of these outlooks from sunrise to sunset, weather permitting. The backup biopsier only released an arrow if the primary biopsier missed, did not make an attempt, or was incapable of making an attempt e.
Males were classified as subadult or adult based on a visual estimate of the length of the whale; adult males are much larger than subadults or females. Females and subadult male sizes could not be visually distinguished and gender was determined in these groups using the genotyping methods described herein.
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All biopsies from Gulf of Mexico whales were collected between August and November , after the well was capped and the oil had ceased spewing. Biopsies were collected from the left flank of free-ranging whales using a crossbow and specialized arrows that have a hydrostatic buoy behind a mm stainless steel cylindrical biopsy dart.
All whales appeared to be healthy, did not appear to have oil on their skin, and were not encountered near oil slicks. Previously we demonstrated that metals are not released from the biopsy darts into the samples. After biopsies were retrieved, samples were removed from the tip and divided into several pieces for contaminant analysis skin for metals, blubber for organics , genetic analysis skin , and development of cell lines interface between skin and blubber.
Gender was determined by PCR amplification reactions by amplifying the SRY male determining factor according to published methods. Oil samples were collected during June of , while the oil was still flowing, including one sample from the broken riser itself. Tar balls were collected from beaches in Louisiana, Alabama, and Florida. Standard quality assurance procedures were employed Table 1.
Instrument response was evaluated initially, after every 10 samples, and at the end of each analytical run using a calibration verification standard and blank. For ease of comparison, all data are presented as ppm wet weight.