URI Today

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Grad student studies ‘whale snot’ to help protect Arctic marine mammals

uri today feature photo
Courtesy of Justin Richard

Justin Richard spent nearly 10 years as a beluga whale trainer at Mystic Aquarium, where he taught the Arctic marine mammals to voluntarily submit to regular health screenings. But it’s not so easy to conduct health screenings of wild whales. So he has taken what he learned at Mystic to the University of Rhode Island in an effort to find non-invasive ways of monitoring the health of wild beluga populations.

A doctoral student in the URI Integrative and Evolutionary Biology Program, Richard says he is trying to learn whether he can determine a whale’s gender, reproductive status and other information from the cells and hormones that they exhale.

“Essentially, I study whale snot,” he said with a smile. “The idea is to develop non-invasive methodologies...

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