Link to stress, health of whales might be in giant mouths

May 29, 2019 - 11:41 am

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Whale researchers in New England say they've found a new way to measure the amount of stress felt by giant whales, and that the technique could help protect the massive sea creatures.

Scientists with the New England Aquarium say the new method involves measuring stress hormones by studying baleen, which is the bristly filter-feeding system in the mouths of the biggest whales on the planet. Lead author Rosalind Rolland says baleen records the spikes in stress hormones when whales encounter threats such as changing climate and entanglement in fishing gear.

That's important because whales that experience more chronic stress are less likely to reproduce, and some populations of whales are perilously low. There are only 411 North Atlantic right whales.

The group's research was published online in the journal Marine Mammal Science in March.

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