USM research trip starts to study Gulf of Mexico whales

Posted July 18, 2010, at 11:37 a.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — A team from the University of Southern Maine and the conservation organization Ocean Alliance has left for the Gulf of Mexico to study whales’ exposure to toxins in the oil-tainted waters.

The Ocean Alliance’s laboratory-equipped sailboat Odyssey left Portland Harbor on Saturday. John Wise, the expedition’s scientific director, said Sunday the 93-foot boat is expected to reach the gulf in several weeks.

A 10-member crew on board will start cell cultures, which will be transferred to USM for further study.

Researchers will use crossbows with special darts designed to avoid harming whales to obtain tissue biopsies from four species: humpbacks, sperm, Bryde’s and killer whales.