"A Wealth of Data in Whale Breath"

"MYSTIC, Conn. — 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."

Rebecca Kessler reports for the New York Times September 30, 2013.

Source: NY Times, 10/02/2013