Subject: Toxins and Whales

Michael Williamson (
Thu, 3 Apr 1997 13:39:00 -0500 (EST)

J. Michael Williamson
   Principal Investigator-WhaleNet <>
   Associate Professor-Science
   Wheelock College, 200 The Riverway, Boston, MA 02215
voice: 617.734.5200, ext. 256
fax:    617.734.8666, or 617.566.7369

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Thu,  3 Apr 97 12:46:00 GMT 
Subject: Sea Grant News, Notes From Aro

Sea Grant News, Notes From Around the Nation

   WASHINGTON, April 1 /U.S. Newswire/ -- The following was released by
The National Sea Grant College Program:
   State-of-the-Art Technique Helps Determine Chemical Sensitivity in
Marine Mammals
   The sensitivity of marine mammals to toxic contaminants such as planar
halogenated aromatic hydrocarbons (PHAH), which include PCBs and
dioxins, is not easily measured since legal and ethical concerns
prohibit the direct testing of toxic chemicals on protected animals.
Certain species of seals and whales, however, have some of the highest
levels of these pollutants documented in any animal group. To better
understand the sensitivity of marine mammals to these contaminants,
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Sea Grant Program researchers Mark
Hahn and Brenda Jensen are studying the structure and function of one
of the beluga whale's Delphinapterus leucas, intracellular proteins
known as the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR).
   The AhR is a major determinant of PHAH toxicity, and is thought to
mediate most of the effects of PHAH in vertebrate animals.  This new
approach, commonly used to study human sensitivity to toxics, employs
DNA cloning, in vitro expression, and the analysis of protein function,
and does not require the use of whole animals.  Scientists hope that
their in vitro molecular and biochemical experiments will serve as a
model for a new method to assess protected animals' risk to
environmental contaminants.
   According to Hahn, "Information concerning the sensitivity of beluga
whales or other protected species is important for evaluating the
chances of recovery of those species, and for determining the most
effective action to achieve healthy, viable populations."
   Contact: Mark Hahn, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Sea Grant
Researcher, 508-457-2000, ext. 3242; or e-mail: