Belugas, climate, mercury and cancer

by Harvey Leifert
Thursday, June 26, 2014

White Whale or Beluga Whale (Delphinapterus leucas) from Churchill River near Hudson Bay (Canada). Credit: Ansgar Walk.

Scientists have such a good dataset from more than two decades of studying belugas in the Arctic that they can now use the data collected there to see what might be occurring in other populations of beluga whales, especially in the St. Lawrence Estuary. There, 20 percent of adult whales are dying of cancer in the digestive tract and liver, Raverty says, among the highest rates of cancer in any wild terrestrial or marine mammal. Thus, using the Arctic population of beluga as a control, scientists can investigate which environmental factors in the St. Lawrence region may be contributing to the spike in cancers there and elsewhere.

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