Sunday, 12 June 2011
NOTE FROM JEFF: These are the liner notes from the digitally re-mastered 1991 release of "Songs of the Humpback Whale." Dr. Payne's urgent plea for a vast human awakening before it's too late is even more urgent today, 20 years later, as the 'sci-fi' technologies of HAARP and 'technetronic' warfare are increasingly deployed. Not only are the whales under immense attack from astronomical levels of chemical toxicity, they are beseiged by electronic and magnetic disruptions affecting humans and all life. A vast amount of the damage is being conducted by the U.S. military, in particular the Navy, whose "war games", exercises, experiments, wastes, and weapons systems (of which HAARP is only one) make them the NUMBER ONE de facto enemy of all cetaceans. Ironically, Payne tells us that these original humpback song recordings, were done by Frank Watlington, using "an extraordinary array of deep-water microphones, part of a Cold War experiment of the U.S. Navy, costing tens of millions of dollars and now claimed by the sea..."
For more information on Dr. Payne's organization Ocean Alliance, their report on a five-year study of global ocean toxicity, and the their current mission, a return to the Gulf of Mexico to study the effects of the BP diaster there, go to
[download the executive summary of ocean toxicity survey]
And for leading-edge information on 'technetronic' warfare and the war against the cetaceans by the U.S. Navy, visit
“There are over 5 billion of us humans on this planet. We have a choice, either to be the greatest heroes in the history of life on Earth – remembered for longer (probably forever) than any other generation before for having made the effort and raised ourselves in time to heal the world around us, or we can be the greatest villains in the history of life on Earth – remembered for longer than any other generation before (and probably forever) for having sat on our hands and done nothing while the consequences of both our action and our inaction destroyed the natural world. This recording is offered in hopes that when you hear the whales you will take up the cause of life on Earth.”
Dr. Roger Payne, 1991
Dr. Roger Payne, who produced this recording while associated with the New York Zoological Society, has spent the last 35 years doing research in biological acoustics. His studies began while an undergraduate at Harvard University with work on the directional sensitivity of the ears of bats. He received his doctorate in biology from Cornell University for work demonstrating that owl can locate the position of their prey in complete darkness (well enough to strike it), simply by hearing it move. He has done equally important work on hearing in moths, discovering their ability to judge the direction of bat sonar and this evade capture. The common thread in all his work has been acoustics.
Dr. Payne has led over 100 expeditions to all oceans, studying every species of large whale in the wild. He pioneered many of the benign research techniques now used throughout the world to study free-swimming whales. He directs two long-term studies: one on the songs of the humpback whales; the other following the lives of over 1,000 individually recognizable southern right whales in Argentina (the longest continuous study of a population of known individual whales, based on natural markings, in existence). He has received numerous honours and awards, including a 5-year MacArthur Foundation Fellowship (the so-called “Genius Award”), and has been knighted in the Netherlands for his work on the conservation of whales. When asked how he began studying whales, he replied:
“At the time I was a neurophysiologist at Tufts University and had never even seen a whale. I was in my laboratory one March night during a sleet storm when I heard through the local radio news that a dead whale had washed ashore on the beach. I drove out there. The sleet had turned to rain when I reached the place. Many people had come to see the whale earlier, but by the time I arrived there were only a few, and when I reached the tidal wrack where the whale lay, the beach was deserted.
It was a small whale, a porpoise of about 8 feet long, with lovely subtle curves glistening in the cold rain. It had been mutilated. Someone had hacked off its flukes for a souvenir. Two others had carved their initials deeply into its side and someone had stuck a cigar butt in its blowhole. I removed the cigar and stood there for a long time with feelings I cannot describe. Everybody has some such experience that affects them for life, probably several. That night was one of mine.
At some point my flashlight went out, but as the tide came in I could periodically see the graceful outline of the whale silhouetted against the white foam cast up by the waves. Although it was at that time more typical than not of what happens to whales when they encounter humans, that experience was the last straw, and I decided to use the first possible opportunity to learn enough about whales, so that I might have some effect on their fate.
I was extraordinarily lucky; the very first thing I happened to select for study about whales was the elaborate sound sequences produced by humpback whales during their breeding season. Working with Scott McVay, a pioneer in whale conservation, we discovered that the whales were actually repeating their elaborate, rhythmic sequences of sounds after several minutes. Any time an animal repeats itself in a rhythmic way, it can properly be said to be singing., whether it is a human, a bird, a frog or a cricket. Thus, the humpback whales' sequences were, properly, 'songs.'
They are different from the songs of other animals in several important ways: they are longer; they are repeated without any break between songs; whales change them all the time they sing them (so that at the end of about 5 years there is nothing left of the songs recorded 5 years earlier); and some songs may include rhyming endings on some of their phrases. These latter two fascinating discoveries were made by Katherine Payne (her work on rhyming being a joint study with Linda Guinee).
The fact that whales sing, along with the beauty of their songs, gave us a chance to change the way people perceived whales. Human musicians like Judy Collins and Paul Winter began to include the sounds of whales in their performances and compositions. Killing and eating a whale now became killing and eating a 'musician', and the “Save-the-Whales” movement was born, founded on a new perception: the whale as artist. Conservationists from all over the world began to get involved, and what they accomplished is one of the great success stories of the conservation movement."
At the start of the “Save-the-Whales” movement the whalers had already reduced to commercial extinction every species of large whale except the Minke whale. When this recording first came out in 1970, 33,000 whales were being killed each year. By 1990 the whalers were killing just 1% of that number. We had stopped 99% of the industry. In the process, other scientists like Sydney Holt, Justin Cooke, and William De La Mare had demonstrated before the International Whaling Commission (the international body which regulates whaling) the importance of applying an entirely new set of principles to the protection of whales. In doing so, they ensured that whaling would never be the same.
But the whales are far from safe – whaling may start again, and as they have survived into an age of high technology, whales now face threats which make harpoons seem minor.
Each year about 100,000 porpoises (which are also cetaceans, i.e., whales) have been drowning by accident in huge purse seine nets which are set for tuna. And each year it now appears that more whales and dolphins than are killed by purse seine nets and direct whaling combined are killed in drift nets – nets as long as 50 – 80 kilometers (30-50 miles) which hang from buoys at the surface of the water. Each day, 50,000 or more kilometers (30,000 or more miles) of drift nets are set in deep ocean, killing not only marketable and unmarketable fish, but whales, dolphins, porpoises, sea lions, seals, sea otters, sea turtles, and sea birds. Especially alarming are the so-called “ghost nets”- pieces of drift nets that break off and wander the seas, entangling everything in their path.
But even the wanton destruction of drift nets and ghost nets is minor compared to the destruction wreaked by tens of thousands of toxic substances which industrialized societies vent into the oceans. Of these, PCB's (compounds closely related to DDT) are known to constitute a major threat to marine life, owing to the fact that they are very soluble in fats, but almost insoluble in water, and there fore concentrate in living animal and plant tissues which contain fats and oils. PCB's have recently been found in porpoises in concentrations so high that some of the porpoise's tissues could, in theory, qualify them as swimming toxic dump sites, thus making them eligible for clean up as Super Fund sites. Some scientists believe that if only a small percentage of the PCB's now in use reach the seas they could bring extinction to all carnivourous marine mammals, including, of course, the whales and dolphins, and render inedible most species of commercially valuable fish.
To quote Roger Payne:
"It is critical that people recognize the danger to life on Earth itself, posed by the slow accumulation of toxic substances in the seas, and that we make the sacrifices in time and money necessary to prevent the further entrance into the seas of the most destructive of the toxic substances. If we do not, then this recording could become, in just a few years, the last cry from the last of the great whales, and humanity will be sentenced to live in the unimaginably boring of our creation...forever.
Forever is older than the universe itself. Losing a species, or an entire ocean of species, forever, is a more inexorable loss than any we can ever comprehend. It is one thing to lose your friend. It is another to lose all your friends, along with everything that ever gave you sanity, and the whale species of which they were a part, thereby losing your future as well.
We must stop deceiving ourselves and face squarely the fact that the things with which we are concerned, and on which most of the time and resources of our governments are spent, are trivial alongside problems like the destruction of the seas. Having faced this fact we must act. We must radically change the way we spend our time and energy – stop wasting our potential on the inconsequential things – and dedicate our lives instead to persuading our governments, by whatever means, that they must address the important problems facing humans, and spend, if necessary, all their time and our money on measures that will prevent the destruction of the rest of life on Earth.
The consequences of a failure are, by definition, infinitely worse than any costs of trying to succeed. Life has no time left for governments that cannot comprehend this urgent reality. It is not just governments, but we who must act now – the final hours of our species have arrived. If you and I continue to do nothing, we must face the harsh truth that we really have no intention of acting, will never act, and things really are hopeless. The only person who can deny this is you, yourself, by acting...NOW.”
“You question why we have produced no works of art but do not question the further paradox that we have brains large enough to appreciate art. Could it be that there is enough beauty here, that the kaleidoscope is varied beyond comparison, that the hues of the sea, of the live scales of fish, of the rocks, sands and sea plants are their own canvas and that you may perhaps be limiting yourself by crediting the status of “artist” only to those who can interpret beauty and emotion to others...You will find us when you have the mental technology to recognize our existence...In the meantime, learn what you can of us, as we are interested to learn of you.”
“Coda – the Dolphin Utopia”
Chapter Ten, The Lure of the Dolphin, Robin Brown (1979)
Here, within this small scrap of cosmic detritus, we mammals of the sea both large and small have been graced with the major endowment. Consider...
The surface of this planet measures 197 million square miles and of that 139 million square miles is covered with water. But wait – that is only one concept of our dimension, a limited anthropomorphic concept. To move with us you must learn to think in terms of space, not distance.
For example. The average depths of our nine-tenths of the planetary area is 12, 566 feet; in fact, were the bumpy sections of the land surface of earth – those parts you call mountains – smoothed flat so that the planet became a perfect sphere, the entire surface would be covered with water to a depth of 8,000 feet. Yes, there is that much water!
And we are not confined, as you were before this visit, to the thin film of living space that is the dry land. How high have you built, or how deep have you burrowed on the land? A few thousand feet at most! And to use these paltry intrusions into the sky or the land – to live there – you depend on machinery. You are like birds who may climb trees but cannot fly.
Our world – our living room, counting all our head room, and side room, room before and room behind, the surfaces above and the depths below – is 331 million cubic miles!
Beyond your comprehension, not at all! For lack of an example you place too much value on the imperatives bred in you by the need to fight for a corner of your restrictive surface land. Think instead of the dimensions of outer space – you have dipped an inquisitive paw into your ceiling as we have lifted an inquisitive beak in ours. Is it not the case that confronted with the awesome emptiness of space your territorial imperatives change? There is no enmity among your space men. Well, they, alone of your kind, have tasted the size of our natural habitat.
To understand what we are and why we are it is necessary to understand that we have not only been graced with most of the space but that that “most” is beyond exploration. There is no discovering an end to it, for there is no meaningful end to it. There is no need to guard one part of it, for one part is the same as another part. Example. We have been here some thirty million years and we have a facility for what you call memory which allows us to “remember” the elements of that time. Memory is habit ingrained in the mental structure of all beings, and you have noted with some wonder that one of our kind whom you term the pilot whale is given to grounding itself on the land for no known reasons. Only recently have your scientists noted that such groundings take place where once there was no land – where continents have moved and closed old sea passages.
Such theories have been labeled nonsense – how could any beast remember a passage closed for twenty million years? The answer, or at least one answer, is that memory is memory, that it is not shed like skin, and we have no knowledge that that passage had been closed. How could we have? When you have 331 million cubic miles to journey in, everything is new. Or more simply, if we were to take one year to explore 30 cubic miles of our world – no man could properly map that size of cubic area in so short a time – we would need ten million years to do the whole. The world moves a great distance in a time span of that magnitude. Which means there is no end to our journeys of exploration, for all would have changed by the time any were even partially completed.
And this affects us. The very essence of what we are, although we are aware that you have no great respect for the essence of what we are. We are not serious. We build nothing. Outside of ourselves we create nothing. Our brains expand for no good reason. We have no competitive spirit, or not spirit of the kind that you admire and instill in your young for the advancement of your species.
If you were to be presented with our world to live in, all that you area as a species now would die. You would become like us. You would not be joined as tribes, grouped as countries, separated by color, class or creed. All these imperatives stem from the smallness of your world.
Let us consider the possibility that one day one of your spacecraft discovers another world, as pleasant and temperate as this. The only difference is that it is bigger, shall we say a million times as large as Earth. If you were to take each of your present nations and place them in separate parts of this giant world, and to each of the units of these nations offer total freedom of expansion, what would happen?
Think before you answer, and consider the size we have mentioned. Between Africa and the United States the distance would be 6 billion miles; twice that between the U.S. And Asia, and these continents would have land areas equally enlarged. We think if you were to ever discover such a world it would be a honeypot trap for your species. It would puff out the frantic energies and claustrophobia that presently impel you. We have never been so impelled; that is the essence of the difference between us.
Before taking this tour you were briefed on the some of the aspects of us now established by your scientists. None of these findings has done a great deal to improve out status – we are still not serious, have built nothing and outside of ourselves have created nothing. And yet it is accepted that our brains have expanded to a larger size than yours. How can you resolve the paradox? Working only on the evidence in your possession, and we would stress that it is limited, it is surely possible to see something of our world through our eyes.
Let us begin with our body shape. Our bodies are our buildings and our art.
We have no criticism of our world. It is boundless, eternal, multifaceted, changing. But our original bodies were poor vehicles in which to move through this world. Now they are their own perfection. You will notice you feel no weight, none upon the body and none upon the mind. On the land you are constantly trapped and held and moved by a force you cannot see.
Although you are no longer aware that you are in water – what is water? - you can feel the perfection of movement from a perfect hydrodynamic shape. But what is shape? It is not a conscious structure but a device for movement, a device now so well made, so well adjusted to its purpose as to have no conscious effect. These bodies are sculptures expressing freedom, nothing else.
Movement – how may we describe movement to walkers? To birds perhaps, but even that comparison is primitive. There is no flapping of wings here. Movement is no more than a minute adjusting of lung breath, the gentle inclination of a fluke or the merest flicker of a tail muscle. We hang in our sky, are suspended in our world, not embattled by it.
And remember there are two worlds, worlds of different tactile sensation, a world to float in and another to breathe in. To understand you must imagine that your metabolism is that of the most bizarre alien – a vacuum breather. Think of yourself free of gravity, free to soar through your own sky, brushing mountains, swooping through canyons, playing tag with the clouds and hide-and-seek in the tops of trees – then gliding up and up when the time comes to sip a little of the vacuum outside the atmosphere. We are sorry this is such a fantasy for you. It is the reality for us.
When there is a need for excited movement, then of course we can find speed! There are games to be played, the feel of the sea as it breaks up and over our storming tails, the skimming away of the streamlining molecules leaving drag and friction to dance their slow steps on our ghost skins. A roll in the sky, a spin in the air, a ride upon one of the bow waves of your boats, or a quick dash for food – all are games. There is a sophistication in play and the food hunt that perhaps you may never understand until you understand freedom.
But when we review the restrictions your world has lain upon you and the restrictions you lay upon yourself it is hard to see how you will ever come to understand this world of ours.
And if you cannot understand this world, which is the alpha and omega of our existence, the amalgam of our brains and our bodies, how will you understand us? The movements you see are, in us, sublimely easy. Our evolution, of the brain and of the shape, is a natural function of perfection.
There are, we must stress again, no practical limits to this freedom. Certain of our species have made a choice as to where they prefer to swim, but for all there is eternal change, unending room. We may go up or down, as and when we choose. Down as far as the desire takes us, the body closing in on itself, protecting itself from pressure; changing air into blood energy, then up, up (fast or slow as it suits), the body opening again. There are no threats from any of these other creatures in the sea. It is as if they have been put here in our service. Even the great shark, who is forced to swim in his narrow plane of pressure, can be moved on with a good prod from our hard beaks.
Everything else exists either to sustain or to delight us. You question why we have produced no works of art but do not question the further paradox that we have brains large enough to appreciate art. Could it be that there is enough beauty here, that the kaleidoscope is varied beyond comparison, that the hues of the sea, of the live scales of fish, of the rocks, sands and sea plants are their own canvas and that you may perhaps be limiting yourself by crediting the status of “artist” only to those who can interpret beauty and emotion to others? Would it not be true that if all your kind could make such interpretations there would be no need for artists? That you would all be artists?
An excuse? No, not in our case. But perhaps it would be if all we had to see with, as is almost true of your kind, were eyes.
Consider our eyes, our many different “eyes”, and then consider us against any measure you would like to choose – as builders, say, or as artists, or as musicians.
For all of these are aspects of things you see and hear. Now consider what we can see and hear.
With our eyes we can see more than you – with our optical eyes, that is. We may see from beneath the sea; the beaten pewter of the surface, the black holes of the thermoclines, the shifting rays of an inquisitive sun, the dancing tricks of refraction, the gently shifting deserts of sea bed, coral fantasies (busy builders these!) ranging across the architectural spectrum, carapaced thing, angel fish and devil fish, jellies and living rocks, undersea mountains painted with rainbow encrustations.
Yet with a blink, and a small adjustment of our optical eye muscles, we can see all that you can see. We may peer through the spume of storms, view sunsets and moonlight, dawns, and cyclones; the towers you build along the edge of the world, the heaving buckets you float across our ceiling, the dark, clumsy blobs, windowless (and we have assumed mindless in terms of their enjoyment of the sea), that you have lowered below the ceiling and that you call submarines. And we have seen you, and wondered. Oh how have we wondered! We wonder how you live, where you live, but most of all why you live. Do you ever really play?
But we must stress that these optical eyes, in spite of all they (in our terms ) can see, are not rated particularly highly by us. There is even one of our kind that bothers with not at all.
No, our true eyes are what you would call our ears, with some special connections and receiving equipment that as yet you do not possess. We may see a mirror view of converted sound, a view with depth, that sees inside and outside, around and about, measures and counts – with these eyes we may take a total count of all there is to be known within the ever-expanding balloon of the sonar mirror.
For example, friend dolphin swimming there – even if the were to remain silent, which, as you can hear, he is not – need tell me nothing. I know he is 100 feet away, swimming at 3 feet per second – see now he has just changed course, and is following the butterfish.
I cannot read his mind as such, but I can calculate his thoughts simply by looking. You question that? His stomach is full and his lungs expanding and contracting under no great strain – so he has no need of the butterfish for food. In any event I can judge the speed of the butterfish and have “seen” that the rock it is now approaching has a large hole inside it; too small for friend dolphin. Now see, he spurts, it is a game. A boring game, I admit, for he can make the same calculations as can I. He can see the hole, judge the speed of the butterfish – it is just a moment's exercise.
Please believe that this example is trivial. To read all physical knowledge in a single sonar glance and to refresh that knowledge constantly with echo pulses, to know of the insides of things as well as the images presented by the outside, to be able to do all this by processes of millionths of seconds, is to have a comprehension beyond any example we can present for your kind. We are beyond conception in your sense, and I do not mean that in a derogatory way. All these processes, all this reading, all this seeing, are not taking place consciously. It is not like one of your radar operators sitting in front of a machine gathering special knowledge of a particular set of events for a specific purpose. We incorporate this special sense of seeing into our special state of normality.
And this is true of our sound communications as well.
In the sense that you have need of sounds, we have no need at all. Patronizing? No, objective. Consider friend dolphin again. I know everything he knows – his chances of success, his physical imperatives. I can assess his chances of success. All this from a few clicks. What need of sounds that transmit information – what you call the spoken word – in that case? The only “voice” communication I need to make is one of appreciation – or scorn, or humour – all emotive sounds, all emotions that can be expressed other than by sound. Even your kind have developed gestures of the hands, expressions of the mouth, frowns, smiles, or at best a whistle of appreciation or a groan of contempt. To express an emotional reaction you need no sound, and we need them even less.
If that were the only purpose of communication we would be completely silent animals. We are in fact very noisy. You must ask yourself why. No, you lack our ability to see enough in other ways to appreciate why you communicate as you do, by complex language. I will tell you why we communicate noisily. The primary purpose of communication is contact, an extension of the gregarious instinct we both share. You confuse it with other things because you are obliged, with your limitations, to use communication for other, more basic, tasks. You pass essential information by sound and presume that it is the only way of passing essential information. You exchange images by sound and assume it is the only way of exchanging images.
But strip yourself for a moment of these needs. Conceive of a race of humankind that knows all there is to know of its physical universe, that has books enough to answer all the questions, computers so complex as to do all the equations and pictures upon its walls capable of every form of interpretation. Would humankind then cease to converse? It would not. We are gregarious animals.
Here this gregarious need is serviced by sound images so complex as to require that you amalgamate all your media to understand them. I will click ninety times in a second, and each click will be a ball of information that is comprehensive, subtle, definitive, humorous; tinged with warning; warmed by emotional overtones; even a little aggression; and in the light of my sexual nature, of which you are aware, rich with innuendo.
Don't look puzzled, I am merely describing a concept of language which many of your experts have described. Bernard Shaw spent much of his life attacking the limitations of your English language and proposing alternatives. Do you seriously propose humankind as a species that should be admired for its communicating ability when in this day and age there are possibly a thousand different languages and dialects? Or more to the point, in a world which admires its ability to communicate, and sees it as the factor which separates humankind from all other species, including ourselves, there is not one human being who can communicate with all other human beings.
You have had great difficulties communicating with us. This has always been somewhat surprising in that, so far as we know, there has never been an instance where we have been anything other than interested in or desirous of communication.
In recent years we have become aware of the limitations of your vocal structure. Here, as you know, we use twice the sound spectrum that your limited auditory system can receive. I think we must both accept that until you have built equipment to compensate for these inadequacies, vocal communication will be very difficult. We could of course learn some of your limited sounds, and we will do our best. But the imperative, surely, must be on your side. We have lived by a code which allows an adaptation to new requirements, not a change of structures to them. Given time, a few million years, and a continuing human interest, no doubt we will adapt ourselves to speak within your sound ranges. If you want it any sooner, and I would again remind you that the limitations are on your side, you will have to supply yourself with another tool. It would be better surely if you changed yourself in the fullness of time to use our range, but we sense, as it would appear to be the nature of your species, that you will seek something more immediate even though it will not be as comprehensive.
As for the brain, well, we know nothing of the brain. It is an extension of all else. The brains we have are the brains we need. The brains you have are the brains you need.
We know something of your evolution on the land. Down the ages we have met your kind at different moments of its development. Again, this is not a criticism. There were no tigers in the sea. We were not so badly buffeted by Permian winds nor driven so close to extinction by the ice ages. No dinosaurs walked the bed of the sea. The sea has been our womb since we first chose it for what if offered. It was kinder then and it has been kinder since. So we understand the drives that have shaped your kind.
But you must understand that we are shaped by our world too. There is no danger here, so there is no fear. There is no hunger, so there is no justification for killing other than for the essential food requirement. There are no territorial limitations, so there are no territorial imperatives. There is no need for work, so motive comes from play. That we are gentle, forgiving, undemanding, inquisitive is not that we are special, it is simply the shape of our surroundings.
You say we have large brains. I say we have normal brains. No, that is not to say that you have small brains. For your kind you have normal brains.
Why do we bother with you? We bother because evolution has no end. You are obsessed with “difference”, determined that there should be a gulf. There is no longer any need. You have stopped building moats around your castles. You have even reached the point where you have a secret longing for communication with another species. Are your space probes looking for rock samples or life samples? Is this obsession with UFO's anything more than a rejection of cosmic loneliness? As I have said before, we are gregarious, and as you know well, we share a common evolutionary heritage. We are the same at heart, you of the land and we of the sea.
You will find your life on other planets when you have the technology to get there – the laws of logic and the size of the galaxy make that inevitable. The same goes for us. You will find us when you have the mental technology to recognize our existence, and if this visit, be it ethereal, is any guide, we are getting very close.
In the meantime, learn what you can of us, as we are interested to learn of you.
Sunday, 8 May 2011
"Arsenic is much more cytotoxic to human cells than bowheads. The results indicate that bowhead cells may have cellular processes that protect them from the effects of arsenic exposure."
OCEAN AND HUMAN HEALTH STUDIES
Comparative Toxicology of Humans and Marine Animals
Photo courtesy of Iain Kerr
Many years ago miners used to take canaries with them into the mines to detect if dangerous levels of poisonous gas were present. The birds were more sensitive to the toxic effects of the gas and so miners knew if the bird died that poisonous gas was present and they needed to leave the mines. We are investigating the possibility that marine species are the "canaries in the ocean" for environmental pollutants. In other words, we are trying to determine how marine animals and humans respond to ocean pollutants because if marine mammals are the same or more sensitive to these chemicals in humans then we will know that for those chemicals marine animals are indeed our canaries in the ocean and may be warning us of the danger we face from ocean pollution.
On the other hand, marine animals may be more resistant to the effects of marine pollutants. This finding would suggest that they may possess some unique cellular or molecular features that protect the cells. If this proves to be the case, we can try to determine how this protection occurs to see if we can use it to protect human health.
Already we are finding substantial differences in the response of marine mammal and human cells to environmental toxicants. For example, we find that bowhead whales are much more resistant to the cytotoxic effects of arsenic than human cells are (See Figure below). This suggests that bowheads have some cellular process that protects them from the toxic effects of arsenic. Future research will help determine what this process might be.
This figure shows the cytotoxicity of arsenic in bowhead whale (red line) and human (orange) lung cell lines. Arsenic is much more cytotoxic to human cells than bowheads. The results indicate that bowhead cells may have cellular processes that protect them from the effects of arsenic exposure.
Thursday, 10 February 2011
NOTE: Here are excerpts from the “executive summary” of the report from Ocean Alliance on the results of their unprecedented five-year survey of global ocean toxicity, publicly released in June of 2010 just before the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
FULL REPORT: http://www.oceanalliance.org/?page_id=221
NOTE FROM JEFF: I’ve had the pleasure and honour of being in contact with Iain Kerr, CEO of Ocean Alliance during the past year. With my long-standing interest in the health of the ocean and her life forms, especially the whales, and with my disgust for “save the whales” organizations like Greenpeace and Sea Shepherd, who demonstrate that they are far more interested in projecting their “made for tv” charades to make money than in confronting REAL issues of danger to ALL whales, I recognized Ocean Alliance to be one of the miniscule number of organizations doing real science that matters. Ironically, shortly after founder Dr. Roger Payne presented the sobering findings of their five-year survey of global ocean toxicity to the U.S. Senate, the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico happened. The largest and most environmentally damaging “oil spill” in history followed right on the heels of revelations that the entire global ocean was already vastly more polluted than anyone could have deemed possible. While Greenpeace, Sea Shepherd, and every other major non-profit “environmental” group cowered unbelievably in a silent vacuum of zero response to the BP scenario, so as not to offend “anyone” who may have contributed vast sums of money…yes, it’s documented that BP practically “owns” several major “environmental” groups, Ocean Alliance rallied like the warriors they truly are and with great effort and at great, even personal, expense, mounted a “toxicity reconnaissance” mission down to the Gulf to study the immediate and long-term impacts of not only the massive amounts of petroleum that were released, but more significantly the astronomical amounts of the neurotoxic and carcinogenic dispersant Corexit that BP deployed. As I write now OA and their scientific affiliates are hard at work studying their samples and hopefully soon will be able to share with us their findings. IF you are someone who’s been contributing or thinking of contributing money to organizations like Greenpeace or Sea Shepherd, I recommend that you stop funding these imposters and support the “original” whale-savers and researchers, Ocean Alliance. Liesbet and I sent a whole set of rocks for the crew of the Odyssey in honour of their historic work, and Iain Kerr recognized me as their “southern hemisphere correspondent.”
In my on-going effort to get the real and total picture of what’s happening, I’ve given OA some “constructive criticism” which I hope didn’t offend anyone, for example, suggesting that, since they are already looking for POP’s, toxic metals, and nano-particles, why not complete the spectrum of toxicity by looking for radioactive substances. I also suggested that, like Rosalind Peterson of www.agriculturaldefensecoalition.org, they identify the military, specifically, the U.S. Navy, as prime suspects not only for their toxic chemical contributions, including the “new kid on the block” chromium, but also for their extensive global deployment of LFAS, “low-frequency active sonar” which can explode the inner ears of cetaceans within a “kill zone” the size of Texas; and the Air Force has been spraying a lot of toxic chemicals for “geo-engineering” purposes, too, which, like almost all pesticides used on the planet, end up in the ocean. As it stands now, the military, a monstrous planetary juggernaut, is categorically exempt from any environmental regulations whatsoever. They are the proverbial “elephant in the living room” that almost everyone pretends not to see. But the dung is piling up. By the time our nostrils are clogged, we won’t be able to speak out! I also only half-jokingly asked Ocean Alliance if they had paid the whales any royalties for use of their “songs”, and if they were whales, would they in fact want to be “sampled” or even “watched.” Without ever mentioning it, I was wondering if they were at least considering the possibility of becoming vegetarians, if for no other reason than the bio-accumulation of toxins in the flesh of sea animals (and yes, contrary to an on-going belief still held by some, fish is in fact meat. It’s certainly not a vegetable, what else could it be?) Finally, Iain paid me what is by far the highest compliment anyone has ever offered. In closing our most recent phone conversation, he said “Stay sane.” The implication is that in his eyes I WAS sane. And also by implication, humanity as a whole might not be. In the interest of the preservation of “sanity” and our love of the Earth and her oceans, I present to you now a summary of the recent Ocean Alliance voyage.
NOTE: Soon I will be posting a comprehensive synthesis the current global cetacean scenario.
“The major problem with the recommended use of pesticides is that so little actually reaches the target pests. The estimate is that less than 0.01% of the pesticides that is applied reaches the target pests. This, of course, means that 99.9% of the pesticide that is applied pollutes the environment. The result is that numerous birds, fish, and other species are killed or affected by the applied pesticides…Worldwide…26 million people [are] poisoned and about 220,000 deaths each year. In addition, pesticides cause cancer and the estimate is that there are more than 10,000 cases of cancer which are the result of pesticide exposure. Pesticides also disrupt the endocrine, immune, and neurological responses in humans and other animals. It is interesting to note that these disruptions tend to make male animals become female in structure. In addition, the production of sperm is greatly reduced or is zero.” David Pimentel, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, Cornell University (2000)
www.oceanalliance.org (founded by Dr. Roger Payne, 1971)
“The contamination of the world’s oceans is a rapidly expanding global problem. According to 1998 reports from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.N. Environment Programme, between 1930 and 2000, the global production of human-made chemicals increased exponentially from 1 million to 440 million short tons per year. Because the oceans are downhill from everything on earth, they are the final destination for every contaminant that can be moved by water or wind.”
“The environmental crisis we face provides this generation with the most singular opportunity for greatness ever offered to any generation in any civilization, ancient or modern. If we hesitate we will write our names in infamy. If we seize it, we can take our place among the stars.” – Roger Payne, PhD
Circumnavigating the Globe: Executive Summary
The First Expedition: March 2000 – August 2005
A Pioneering Global Research Voyage to Collect Baseline Data on Contaminants in the World’s Oceans
Ocean Alliance, Inc., a 501(c)3 organization, was founded in 1971 by biologist Roger Payne. Led by Dr. Payne and CEO Iain Kerr, Ocean Alliance collects a broad spectrum of data on whales and ocean life relating particularly to toxicology, bioacoustics, behavior, and genetics. Working from that data, we give information about ocean pollution and the health of marine mammals and other ocean life to policy makers, politicians, nongovernmental organizations, educators, and students. Our data is the basis of many conservation success stories.
Our major scientific partner is the Wise Laboratory of Environmental and Genetic Toxicology, at the University of Southern Maine, which conducts state-of-the-art research aimed at understanding how environmental contaminants affect the health of humans and marine animals. The Wise Laboratory’s mission is accomplished through the pursuit of a number of key objectives, including innovative and multidisciplinary research in toxicology and molecular epidemiology to increase understanding of disease in humans and marine organisms, particularly in relation to cancer, asthma, and reproductive/developmental effects.
Ocean Alliance Research Programs
Tracking Sperm Whales – Sentinels of Ocean Health
We learned to track sperm whales day and night by listening for the vocalizations they make. We towed an array of underwater microphones (called hydrophones) behind the Odyssey at all times. The sounds the hydrophones pick up are then broadcast inside the pilot house and displayed visually through a computer program invented by Douglas Gillespie of the International Fund for Animal Welfare. The program, called Rainbow Click, assigns a different color to the clicks of each different sperm whale, determines a bearing to them, and displays those clicks without ocean noise, enabling us to find and follow the individual whale. The crew of the Odyssey has become so skilled at doing this that if we hear just one “click train,” we can almost always find the group, and having done so, we can stay with it for days as long as at least one of the whales in the group keeps clicking.
Right Whale Program
Ocean Alliance runs the longest continuous study of any baleen whale species in which specific individual whales are tracked and identified over time. The subject of this study is one of the most endangered of the great whales, the southern right whale (Eubaleana australis). Ocean Alliance right whale researchers, led initially by Roger Payne and now by Victoria Rowntree, have studied one of the world’s largest populations of right whales (approximately 2,000 individuals) on their
calving grounds in Argentine waters since 1970.
Humpback Whale Songs
Ocean Alliance is best known for Roger Payne’s 1968 discovery (with Scott McVay) that the intricate and impressive vocalizations produced by humpback whales (Megaptera novaengliae), particularly on their winter assembly grounds, are produced in repeated, rhythmic patterns and are therefore, by definition, songs. Roger Payne and other researchers at Ocean Alliance have gathered recordings from humpback whale populations throughout the world, a collection that now contains more than 1,500 recordings from 14 geographic regions. It may be the largest collection of humpback recordings anywhere and is now being curated by Cornell University’s Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds. The Ocean Alliance library also contains recordings from right whales, sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus), and several other species, which, together with the humpback recordings, total more than 6,000 hours of sounds.
The Reasons for a Global Survey of Ocean Pollution
The contamination of the world’s oceans is a rapidly expanding global problem. According to 1998 reports from theU.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.N. Environment Programme, between 1930 and 2000, the global production of human-made chemicals increased exponentially from 1 million to 440 million short tons per year. Because the oceans are downhill from everything on earth, they are the final destination for every contaminant that can be moved by water or wind.
Poisonous chemicals contaminate ocean food chains throughout the world. Pesticides poison our food and leach into waterways; many industrial emissions poison the air and damage our lungs, kill wildlife, and impair the ability of our children to learn. We are facing a slow graying of the human future caused by the inexorable accumulation of persistent organic pollutants (POPs). Because they are metabolized so slowly POPs increase in concentration as they move up food pyramids.
In the 1980s more than 900 dolphins died off the East Coast of the United States from immune system disorders, some of which may have been caused by pollutants in their habitat. In the seemingly crystal-clear water off the Bahamas, Atlantic spotted dolphins (Stenella frontalis) show signs of pox, skin lesions, tumors, and birth defects. Beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas) in the Gulf of the St. Lawrence river are so full of chemical pollutants that when they die and their bodies wash ashore, they have to be treated as toxic waste. Yet the lack of any baseline data on the concentrations of these substances has made it all but impossible to persuade governments to take the steps necessary to reduce the manufacture, use, and improper disposal of POPs in the environment.
The Voyage of the Odyssey program was established to fill this gap and collect the first-ever global dataset on the distribution, concentrations, and effects of toxic pollutants in the world’s oceans. Ocean Alliance has accomplished this by collecting 955 sperm whale tissue samples worldwide. In doing so, we have used sperm whales as our bioassay – as a global indicator of contaminant loading in a top predator. We chose to study sperm whales because they, like us, are top predators – and therefore can be expected to offer an instructive reflection of the problems from contaminants that we also face. We have collected samples from every ocean (including polar oceans because that is where adult males feed), advanced the field of marine mammal toxicology, and created an unrivaled sample set of information and other resources for future collaborative research. The Voyage has made it possible to draw direct comparisons between contaminant concentrations in all oceans, and has provided the first worldwide assessment using the same protocols of the risks facing humans and wildlife from pollutants in the sea.
The original goals of our toxicology program were as follows:
1. To establish an archive of skin and blubber biopsy samples from sperm whales from all oceans
2. To measure the contaminant burdens present in our samples, especially for EDCs (endocrine-disrupting chemicals) and other persistent organohalogens.
3. To establish a baseline against which future studies can be compared, in order to monitor changing ocean pollutant levels in the world’s oceans
4. To generate data on critical biomarkers of contaminant exposure, specifically cytochrome P450 1A1 (an enzyme produced by animals as a result of exposure to chemical contaminants)
5. To compare and contrast our data with existing databases on contaminants and their effects on vertebrates around the globe
Organohalogens (organic molecules with attached halogen atoms such as chlorine or bromine) are part of a greater group of chemicals called persistent organic pollutants (POPs). We chose organohalogens as our initial focus because most are synthetic chemicals that are pervasive, and have potential toxic effects such as immunosuppression, disruption of neurological functions, reproductive abnormalities, and cancer. Also, POPs accumulate in fatty tissues (e.g., blubber), which makes measuring them in skin/blubber biopsies feasible and practical. Furthermore, as they play no known positive physiological role in animals, the presence of most organohalogens in animal cells indicates that the animal has been exposed to industrial chemicals. The principal organohalogens that we targeted for study are recognized toxicants and include DDT, DDE, dioxin, and several PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls). Although the toxicity of these substances was well established by others prior to our Voyage, the extent to which they had reached into the marine environment was unknown. It was to document their concentrations near-shore as well as in remote ocean regions that Ocean Alliance launched the Voyage of the Odyssey.
A New Toxic Threat Emerges
About the time that the Voyage was drawing to a close, we began to recognize a new and impending threat from an even more ubiquitous suite of organohalogens, the polybrominated diphenyl ethers or PBDEs. These compounds are used as flame retardants and are now found worldwide in many consumer products. Structurally, they are very similar to PCBs except that the halogen atom is a bromine instead of a chlorine. Near the end of the Voyage, studies by others began to emerge showing that concentrations of PBDEs were dramatically increasing in human mothers’ breast milk, particularly in U.S. mothers. There were also disturbing reports that these substances may be neurotoxic to a developing brain. Because we had waited until the end of the Voyage to settle on what compounds to analyze, Ocean Alliance was able to shift its principal focus on organohalogens to these key and newly recognized toxic PBDEs, the distribution of which are virtually unknown. Regulation is now coming into place for the more familiar toxicants such as PCBs while PBDEs are mostly unregulated.
As the Voyage neared its end, Ocean Alliance’s partner Dr. John Wise of the Wise Laboratory of Environmental and Genetic Toxicology at the University of Southern Maine, was fully engaged in the analysis of our samples. Dr. Wise and his team are pioneers in marine toxicology. Their studies include an emphasis on the toxic effects of chemicals in cells grown in culture. This means that not only are we able to establish baseline concentrations of pollutants in the sea, but we now can measure directly the toxic effects of the pollutant concentrations we observed on sperm whale cells grown in culture. This will provide a toxicity context to our measured baseline of pollutants. The latter step will occur later, but for now, under Dr. Wise’s leadership, we are continuing to analyze the pollutant concentrations in the samples we brought back from the Voyage.
Data Report I: Organohalogen Analysis I (PCBs, DDT, and HCB)
What Are These Chemicals?
Halogens are nonmetal elements consisting of fluorine, chlorine, bromine, iodine, and astatine. An organohalogen is a chemical that has a halogen as part of a molecule the remainder of which is carbon based. In environmental toxicology, perhaps the most infamous organohalogens are the organochlorines. These carbon-based chemicals have at least one covalently bound chlorine atom. Their principal uses are as solvents, pesticides, and electrical insulators. In our study, we focused on three groups of them: polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which were used primarily as electrical insulators, DDT and hexachlorobenzene (HCB). The latter two are pesticides.
What Samples Did We Use?
The PCB, DDT, and HCB analysis was done by Dr. Cristina Fossi at the University of Sienna in Italy. The Fossi study included 50 individual whales that we selected on the basis of their CYP1A1 levels (discussed later). They came from five Pacific Ocean regions (10 individual samples per region).
Data Report II: CYP1A1 Analysis
Because of the potential high cost of organic contaminant analysis and our desire to rapidly achieve a global dataset reflecting pollutant levels in the whales, we chose to measure the levels of CYP1A1 in whale biopsies. The chief scientist of the Voyage at the time, Celine Godard-Codding, also had a specific research interest in this biomarker. See full report for results.
Data Report III: Organohalogen Analysis II (PBDEs)
These Chemicals and their Health Effects
Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are organohalogens that are structurally like PCBs, except that instead of chlorines, they have bromines. PBDEs are predominantly used as flame retardants in many products including clothes, furniture, electronics, cars, plastic packaging, and building materials. The health effects of these compounds are just being established. The most common concern focuses on their potential for affecting the developing nervous system and possibly for disrupting the endocrine system.
Data Report IV: Toxic Metals
What Are Toxic Metals and Why Should We Care about Them?
Toxic metals are metals that poison the body and have no known biological role. As a group they can poison all of the organ systems of the body, though individually the scope of their toxicity is, in most cases, more limited. Some of their organic forms (such as methylmercury or tetraethyl lead) are even more toxic than they are as elements, but others (such as arsenobetaine) are less toxic. Because toxic metals are elements, they cannot be destroyed, although they can bioaccumulate, and some biomagnify. One aspect of toxic metals is that they can mimic essential metals and interfere with the uptake or function of that essential metal. For example, cadmium, lead, and other toxic metals can interfere with the uptake of iron and cause iron deficiency.
Chromium is one toxic metal that can be either toxic or essential. In its hexavalent form, it is clearly a toxic metal. In its trivalent form, it is classified as an essential metal; however, more recent data are challenging that classification and finding that although it may have activity as a drug, it may not be essential. Chromium is currently unique among essential metals in that it is the only one for which there is no recognized disease state that results from its deficiency. The absence of such a state further supports the argument that although it has pharmacological activity it may not have essential activity. We have included it here with the toxic metals because with the levels we find – whether in its trivalent or hexavalent form– there is reason for concern.
Although we measured all toxic metals, the full report presents the baselines and some brief context with respect to the uses and health effects of chromium, mercury, aluminum, arsenic, cadmium, lead, gold, silver, and titanium. We also provide the context of other published studies of sperm whales, other whales, and other marine mammals. We are still in the process of reviewing existing literature studies, but we have summarized what we have found so far. We have yet to find data for some pollutants, suggesting that ours may be the first. Of course, there may be publications that we have not yet uncovered, and new data are being reported all the time. Thus, contextualizing our data is an ongoing process, and we will be expanding it to include the remainder of the toxic metals we measured (barium, strontium, and tin) as well as the essential metals such as copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, nickel, zinc, and selenium. This summary focuses on chromium, mercury and selenium. Our study was one of the very few to measure levels in free-ranging, apparently healthy whales, and thus of necessity we measured skin levels. The other studies considered dead animals and usually focused on the liver and other internal organs. They rarely considered skin, and therefore some of the differences in levels that we found may be due to the difference in organs studied. We discuss the overall implications of these data later in this summary (also see page 152 of the full report). Our context is presented later as we discuss each ocean and sea separately. A finer breakdown of locations beyond major oceans and seas can be found in the individual metals sections.
Implications of the Data: What Does All of This Mean?
Working up the data, contextualizing it, and writing it up as scientific papers is still underway. Nevertheless, some important discoveries that can be expected to alter fundamentally the way the world thinks about marine pollution are already apparent. The first Voyage of the Odyssey provides clear evidence that pollutants have reached the deep oceans of the entire world; the extent of the accumulation of contaminants in apex predators makes it an indisputable fact that humans are polluting the oceans. Aluminum, chromium, lead, silver, and titanium are all metals that are found in high concentrations and/or appear to be increasing in ocean life. The Voyage has already achieved a number of important goals and breakthroughs as follows:
1) Established a baseline of ocean contaminants
As evidenced by the many contaminant baseline concentrations presented in Part 3 of this report, we achieved our fundamental goal many times over. We can now talk and think about many pollutants in a global context, something not possible before the Voyage. This context is critically important because it allows us to see in objective terms that even animals living in the most remote ocean regions are heavily contaminated and that pollution is now a global problem. Voyage of the Odyssey results encourage us to begin thinking more about global movements of pollutants by such natural forces as wind and ocean currents. Scientists have long questioned whether pollutants were moving across the globe at rates and concentrations that would constitute any kind of significant threat to ocean life or, by extension, to human life. But the baseline concentrations provided in this report now show that this is indeed the case. The presence of high levels of pollutants in remote locations near areas of land without major industry such as Kiribati and the Galapagos demonstrate that contaminants are everywhere whether they are carried there by wind, water, or animals. We now have proof that humanity is polluting all oceans. In the future, the baselines provided by the first Voyage of the Odyssey will tell us whether things are getting better or worse and in applicable cases whether remediation efforts are working.
2. Conducted the first and only large study of marine contaminants in free-ranging animals
The Voyage of the Odyssey transforms the way we will think about contaminant studies. The study encompassed hundreds of apparently healthy animals of a single species that is found across the globe. It is the first of its kind. Even if we consider studies of dead animals, it is the largest single marine contaminant study. Previous studies have relied on small numbers of animals, usually a handful, from just one species. Moreover, these animals were usually found stranded and dead, though in a few cases, such as subsistence-hunted bowhead whales, the specimen animals were presumed healthy when they were killed.
In previous whale studies the animals came to the researchers: the researchers did not go to the animals. The Voyage of the Odyssey proves that a large dataset from multiple regions can be developed and, more important, provides critical insights into a complex problem. Scientists can now use these data to provide context and guidance for their own smaller or more local studies
and may now seek with greater confidence of possible success, new ways to perform larger and more ambitious studies.
3. Showed that hundreds of healthy sperm whales, from even the remotest ocean regions, have been exposed to pollutants, thus demonstrating that marine pollution is both a global and a local problem
With the dataset from the Voyage we now have the statistical power to show marine baselines with unprecedented authority. Critics of previous studies by others have pointed out that the number of animals considered was so low that the studies probably did not reflect the whole population of that species, and disputed that any definite conclusion could be drawn regarding a large pollution problem. In addition, they argued that because the studied animals were sick, the levels were quite probably elevated as a result of the underlying disease that caused the animals to strand and die in the first place. Finally, they argued that if there were any validity to the levels found, they probably reflected an unusually high and localized exposure to some rare pollution event such as an oil spill or a sunken ship.
The Voyage of the Odyssey overcomes all of these criticisms. Hundreds of animals were considered, not just a handful. Because all of the animals were alive and exhibiting normal healthy behaviors, disease is not likely to be a factor, nor is it likely to be responsible for the elevated levels found. Eighteen broad regions from around the globe were studied so this is not merely a local phenomenon. Moreover, the vast majority of sperm whales are not found in coastal waters so this is not just a near shore problem. Finally, because this work was done on a single species, critics cannot argue that the observed differences come from studying several different species. Because of the dataset we have provided, it is no longer possible to argue that marine pollution is not a major global health concern.
4. Compiled the first extensive pollutant data for the Indian Ocean
Very few studies have considered contaminants in the Indian Ocean. This data gap seems remarkable given the size of the Indian Ocean and the numbers of peoples who depend on seafood from it. The Voyage of the Odyssey has now provided substantial insights into pollution levels in the Indian Ocean, which will help officials and scientists in that area better understand the challenges they face in protecting and conserving this important area.
5. Identified aluminum and chromium as global pollutants
The high aluminum and chromium levels we discovered are surprising and provocative. Aluminum and chromium have only rarely been considered in marine studies as they were not thought to be major concerns. Now, with data showing chromium levels previously seen only in workers, with long occupational exposure, the discussion changes and we have to consider aluminum and chromium as important global health concerns.
6. Brought attention to and started a significant discussion on the importance of air pollution in the marine environment
One discussion we have already started concerns the possibility that whales are exposed to chromium via inhalation. This argument stems from the fact that chromium is poorly absorbed by eating food or via direct absorption through the skin. Thus, it would be logical that in order to have the high levels we observed, whales have to have been inhaling substantial quantities. In starting this discussion, we have learned that few have considered the impact of air pollution on marine mammals, the focus having almost entirely been on diet and water exposure. The Voyage data will fundamentally change the way scientists perceive the marine environment, by forcing them to consider air quality as an important health concern to marine life.
7. Created the first sperm whale cell lines
The creation of the world’s first sperm whale cell lines will allow us to investigate the toxic effects of metal and chemical pollutants we found in the biopsy samples we obtained. We will also be able to compare the effects of pollutants on sperm whale cell cultures to their effects on human cell cultures, thereby gaining important insights into both whale and human health. Finally, using these cell lines, we can create a number of important cellular and molecular tools that can be used to gain a better understanding of sperm whale biology.
8. Established baselines for nanoparticle-related metals
Nanotechnology is an unstoppable wave of the future that has raised concerns globally about its strong potential to cause serious environmental problems. Because of the Voyage of the Odyssey, we are now armed with key baseline data showing levels of three of the major nanomaterials (silver, gold, and titanium) before they came into widespread usage. As that usage grows, our results will help assess the effects of the widespread use of nanoparticles on the marine environment, and can be expected to be of key value in helping to minimize negative effects.
9. Established baselines for organochlorines
Although the levels of organochlorines in the oceans are low, the Pacific baseline for these chemicals tells us that they appear to be decreasing. This observation is important because it tells us whether remediation methods such as banning a chemical can work – an important consideration when considering how to control other pollutants with very high levels, such as chromium.
10. Are establishing a baseline for polybrominated flame retardants
PBDEs are a ubiquitous contaminant of emerging concern. Once we complete the work of establishing the baseline for them, we will have provided a key insight into the extent of their reach into the oceans and how urgent a problem they constitute there. There are of course many more important but less consequential achievements from the Voyage that we will not attempt to discuss further here. Examples are the data showing that chromium can damage whale DNA and the determination that CYP1A1 is not a sufficient biomarker for assessing contaminant exposure levels in sperm whales. As we continue to analyze our samples, we are confident that many more discoveries will come to light.