October 7, 2013

A wealth of data found in whale breath and more wildlife health news


Unprecedented die-off of swallows that bolster crops, public health

The wild weather that recently thrashed Oregon killed thousands of swallows that bolster crop production and public health.

The die-offs of barn and violet-green swallows were first reported on Monday. There have been sightings every day since then, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife officials said Thursday.

"I'm presuming every place that had concentrations of swallows had some sort of die-off," said Colin Gillin, a fish and wildlife veterinarian. "It's very unfortunate."

... The extent of the die-off is unprecedented, Gillin said.

In the past, Oregon has seen die-offs of swallows but it's always been because of spraying of pesticides on fields near the Willamette River, Gillin said. And those die-offs were limited to small areas. This time, bodies were found mainly in barns from the Port of St. Helens to Junction City. Most of the sightings have been near the Willamette River where the birds congregate looking for insect hatches.

Nearly 1,000 swallows and a few swifts were turned over to Fish and Wildlife officials. "That has to be a fraction of what actually died," Gillin said.

The birds apparently starved to death, Gillin said. Pathologists at the Oregon State University Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory found nothing in their stomachs or upper gastrointestinal tracts.

Oregon Live
03 Oct 2013
L Terry
Location: Willamette River, Oregon, USA - Map It

A wealth of data found in whale breath

On her trainer’s command, an alabaster-skinned beluga whale named Naku placed her chin on the deck of her outdoor pool and exhaled several times, emitting a hollow “chuff” sound with each breath. The vapor rose into a petri dish a researcher held over her blowhole.

Those tiny drops contain a wealth of information, it turns out. Researchers at Mystic Aquarium and elsewhere are learning how to use the breath, or “blow,” of whales and dolphins to extract and measure hormones, microorganisms, DNA and the byproducts of metabolism.

Their goal is not only to improve the health of captive cetaceans like Naku, but also to develop a powerful, unobtrusive technique for studying them. While blood is the gold standard in physiological research, it can be hard to obtain — and all but impossible from large whales. Three new studies describe advances in breath analysis, which may prove to be the next best thing.

New York Times
30 Sep 2013
R Kessler

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