Maine lab detects pollution threat to whales

Posted May 06, 2009, at 12:33 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — A University of Southern Maine researcher says a global study of skin samples from whales provides evidence of an “alarmingly high” level of industrial pollution in the world’s oceans.

John Wise of USM’s Wise Laboratory of Environmental and Genetic Toxicology told the Portland Press Herald that all but two samples taken from 361 sperm whales during a five-year voyage contained chromium, an industrial pollutant that causes cancer in humans.

Wise said the findings — published in the journal Chemosphere — raise concerns about a previously unknown threat to whales.

The samples were collected by researchers with the Ocean Alliance, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit, during an around-the-world sailing voyage between 2000 and 2005. The samples were tested at the Wise Laboratory.