WHOI Study Identifies Whale Blow Microbiome

WOODS HOLE – A new study by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and colleagues identified for the first time an extensive conserved group of bacteria within healthy humpback whales’ blow—the moist breath that whales spray out of their blowholes when they exhale.

The research published October 10th in mSystems, an open-access journal of the American Society for Microbiology.

The discovery of this shared respiratory “microbiome” could serve as an important framework for monitoring the health of this and other whale species.

Just like with humans, scientists say the assemblages of microorganisms that live in and on whales—known as microbiomes—may play a crucial role in their overall health, from maintaining a healthy immune system to fighting off disease.

Blow samples were collected from two different humpback populations: 17 from whales in coastal waters off Cape Cod and nine from whales in waters around Vancouver Island, Canada.

The team then sequenced the genetic material found in the blow samples to determine what kinds of microorganisms are living in a whale’s respiratory tract.

Funding for this project was provided through a grant from the Ocean Life Institute at WHOI.

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