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Blue whale earplug reveals lifetime contaminant exposure and hormone profiles

OPEN Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America | 18 Sep 2013

SJ Trumble, EM Robinson, M Berman-Kowalewski, CW Potter and S Usenko
Lifetime contaminant and hormonal profiles have been reconstructed for an individual male blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus, Linnaeus 1758) using the earplug as a natural aging matrix that is also capable of archiving and preserving lipophilic compounds. These unprecedented lifetime profiles (i.e., birth to death) were reconstructed with a 6-mo resolution for a wide range of analytes including cortisol (stress hormone), testosterone (developmental hormone), organic contaminants (e.g., pesticides and flame retardants), and mercury. Cortisol lifetime profiles revealed a doubling of cortisol levels over baseline. Testosterone profiles suggest this male blue whale reached sexual maturity at approximately 10 y of age, which corresponds well with and improves on previous estimates. Early periods of the reconstructed contaminant profiles for pesticides (such as dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethanes and chlordanes), polychlorinated biphenyls, and polybrominated diphenyl ethers demonstrate significant maternal transfer occurred at 0-12 mo. The total lifetime organic contaminant burden measured between the earplug (sum of contaminants in laminae layers) and blubber samples from the same organism were similar. Total mercury profiles revealed reduced maternal transfer and two distinct pulse events compared with organic contaminants. The use of a whale earplug to reconstruct lifetime chemical profiles will allow for a more comprehensive examination of stress, development, and contaminant exposure, as well as improve the assessment of contaminant use/emission, environmental noise, ship traffic, and climate change on these important marine sentinels.
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Whale song, Humpback whale, Flame retardant, Biphenyl, Hormone, Puberty, Cortisol, Polychlorinated biphenyl
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