Putting the Data We Collect Into Context – By Iain Kerr

Odyssey Gulf Sunset Window - Photo by Eliza MuirheadFrom 2000 to 2005 Ocean Alliance sent the research vessel Odyssey around the world.  We collected literally mountains of data, taking skin and blubber biopsies from sperm whales that we continue analyze.  Just last month our scientific partners at the Wise Laboratory at the University of Southern Maine published a paper based on this data: “A Global Assessment of Oceanic Lead Pollution using Sperm Whales (Physeter macrocephalus) as an Indicator Species.”

While the investment to send the Odyssey around the world was huge, that investment will pay off for decades to come.  For the last four summers (after the 2010 BP Oil Spill) the Odyssey has been working in the Gulf of Mexico.  Preliminary metals analysis has shown high levels of nickel and chromium — someone put it to me that maybe all sperm whales have elevated levels of nickel and chromium.  Here is where we really see the value of the Odyssey’s circumnavigation – we were able to compare the Gulf of Mexico whales with whales from nine different oceanic regions around the world  and found that Gulf whales are elevated.

So when you collect data, that data has exponentially more value if you can put it into some sort of context. I remember as a small child living in San Diego there was a scare about the potential of a regional incident causing tuna to have high levels of mercury — it was later determined that since tuna feed at the top of the food chain they do accumulate more mercury than other fish.

jwise_001At 4:00 today Dr. John Wise is giving a talk at Virginia Tech Carilion that will be simulcast on the web – the whale component of this talk is based in part on the Voyage of the Odyssey:

When It Rains, It Pours: How Chromium Destabilizes Chromosomes and Impairs DNA Repair on Its Path to Carcinogenesis: Insights from Human and Whale Cells

We hope that you will tune in.