Importance of Natural Resources

Toxins in Humpback Whales | Ocean Vet | S01 E09 | Free Documentary Nature


This is Doctor Neil Burnie. He lives in Bermuda, a stunning Atlantic Island six hundred and forty miles east of North Carolina, USA.He’s spent the last thirty years practicing veterinary medicine, but now he’s transferring his veterinary skills to help save, protect, and learn more about the incredible marine life of Bermuda’s Ocean. This is a completely wild shark. Alongside his dedicated Ocean Vet team, are a number of scientists, Yeah, this and probably. marine biologists, Just cut a little nick off the back fin. and specialist master divers, helping to perform a number of unique and dangerous procedures, in a bid to safeguard critically important marine species.Together, the team will be fitting satellite tags to huge tiger sharks, saving precious green turtles, dissecting giant blue marlin, and obtaining unique toxin samples from forty five tonne, migrating, humpback whales. Yay! Woo hoo!My knees are like jell-o. Yes, man! This is Bermuda! Home to Doctor Neil Burnie, the Ocean Vet. The humpback whale, one of the largest animals on planet earth. For the Ocean Vet team they represent the biggest animals they’ve ever worked with. I don’t want to spook it. It’s right here. Oh my gosh! In this incredible episode, Neil, will be using a modified bow to perform a unique humpback whale toxin study. Biopsy taken! We’ve got the biopsy, jump, put the boat out of gear. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Neil and the team will utilise the tiny Ocean Vet inflatable, getting dangerously close as massive male humpbacks compete for female attention! Under the water they come face to face with these ocean giants, swimming with them in what proves to be the most magical of all their wild encounters. Alright, the one on the left is the one! In recent years these gracious and powerful mammals have been protected, but now the presence of man-made toxic chemicals in the ocean could be seriously affecting their health. Persistent organic pollutants come from pesticides, solvents, plastics, and other industrial processes. Once ingested, they can cause serious health problems that can lead to the animal’s death. This one’s right behind. Go to the left! Go to the left! The Ocean Vet team’s mission, to sample blubber and test for these chemicals, should prove that so much more needs to be done to ensure these wonderful animals have the best chance of survival. We got him! Perfect! It didn’t even flinch. It didn’t even flinch. Preparation for a project of this scale requires the entire Ocean Vet team. Biopsy kits, i’ve got. Controlling the samples, and keeping an eye on contamination, is the Ocean Vet marine biologist, Choy Aming. Yeah. No, exactly that’s why we’ve gotta come back. Andrew Kirkpatrick, is the team’s underwater videographer; Oscar Deuss, is Neil’s son, and a seasoned whale spotter; and last but not least, Dylan Ward, is the team’s second boat captain. Sure, er, BC’s and like. Heading out in the winter months requires some serious planning. Safety as always comes first. Bones, Bones, Bones, this is, Bermuda Radio. A very good morning to you, go ahead. Yeah, good morning, Craig. We have six persons onboard and two other vessels heading out to, Challenger Bank, in pursuit of the mighty humpback whale, over. Bones, er, Bermuda Radio. Yeah, all copied. Six persons onboard, er, two support vessels. Best of luck at finding monkey dick. You have a good day out there, mate. I’ll be standing by should you require any assistance. Humpback whales typically migrate ten thousand miles, sixteen thousand kilometres, a year. They give birth in tropical waters during the winter, then migrate to polar waters in the summer to feed. It’s during these massive migrations that the whales arrive in, Bermuda. They seem to congregate on, Challenger Bank, one of Bermuda’s underwater seamounts. We’re just heading over. We’ve got three whales at the surface. It looks like they are what we call player whales. They’re interested in these three boats, and they’re surfacing, they’re just going on a dive now, but we hope they’re going to come up and interact with us under the water. The RIB drops the team in the perfect position. Neil’s incredible diving abilities enable him to hold his breath for much longer than most. As he passes through fifty feet, a playful humpback whale falls into view. We have just seen a lot of whales, we’re with them on a pod right now. We’ve got Choy and Neil in the water swimming with them, looks like they’re right below them right now. Um, it’s just amazing. We’ve had so much good footage in such a short period of time. Just being able to, er, swim with these animals and get so close is absolutely amazing. It’s been a, it’s been a great day! Gradually, the whales become more confident. More whales join the pod. Eventually there are so many it becomes impossible for the team to spot them all. Right here, Neil! Neil! Right here! Neil!, Neil! It’s clearly not easy to spot forty tonnes of whale passing over your head, if you’re already watching forty tonnes of whale passing under your feet! The whales are now fully interacting with the team. They appear to be intrigued by Neil, Choy and Kirkpatrick, in the same way the team are intrigued by whales. There is undeniable intelligence. It’s thought that humpback whales may share our kind of intelligence, they have specific brain cells previously thought to only exist in humans. The result is cognitive awareness. They are emotionally driven and highly social creatures. At one point I had two whales suspended below me, just hanging there, just completely still. And I managed to swim down, and probably get within ten feet of one of them. And then as I got down to him, he turned and gave me a full profile, looked me in the eye, and swam away. Priceless! When you swim with these whales you get a profound sense of respect and empathy for these creatures. It is, er, it’s just a privilege to be able to swim with them like that. Endurance, Endurance, Endurance. This is, Bones, Bones. Come back. There are several whale spotting boats on, Challenger Bank, communicating with these boats provides the Ocean Vet team with specific co-ordinates to the whales locations. The report confirms several pods on the southeast corner of, Challenger Bank, an area well known for it’s abundance of wildlife. This is the location for the first biopsy attempt. The health of these whales is being threatened by the amount of plastic being dumped into the oceans. And as these whales filter feed they take in fifty thousand litres of water, including all of these little micro plastic particles that break up. These animals are so beautiful, so gracious, and we are poisoning them, that’s why it’s important. So we have a whale ahead of us. He’s lying on his side. He’s waving his pectoral fin at us. He seems to be really comfortable. We’re gonna try and get a biopsy, right here, right now! Forward, Choy. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Forward, Choy. Yeah. Forward, Choy! Oh no! No, no, no, no, no! I was too close. I allowed for a foot of drop, and it only dropped six inches. It went as clean over the top of his back. Keeping up with the whales is extremely challenging, the sea is rough and the boat is extremely small. If a whale breaches and lands on top of the boat it would seriously injure everyone. Here!Good! Stop the boat, stop the boat! Your’ll run over the. I’m retrieving the line, I got a shot. It did hit the water’s edge, we’ll see if we’ve got the tissue biopsy we need. There is a whale directly behind us, there are whales directly below us! We’re in a large pod of whales right now.We have whale blubber! We have whale blubber. We have a biopsy. We’ve got skin and blubber from that humpback whale, perfect! We’ve got, probably, five or six. Big pod. Looks like males jostling with each other, that’s one of the reasons we can get in so close. Normally we can’t get up like this, but because they’re jostling with each other they’re more interested in each other than they are with us. So we can sneak in, get the biopsy, they don’t know any different. Coming up, Neil, and the team get dangerously close while attempting another biopsy. They stumble across a mother humpback and her calf, Neil takes a biopsy of his own stomach fat, and Choy heads out to investigate a dead sperm whale being consumed by massive predatory sharks!Back in the action, Neil, and Choy, line up on another humpback. Can you call it, cos I can’t see. Move to your right, move to your right! Move to your right. Stay there! slow down, slow down! Keep going. Yeah. Forward! I’m going, i’m going! I don’t want to spook it. It’s right here. Oh my gosh. Yeah! Woo hoo! Holy! Biopsy taken! We’ve got the biopsy. Put the boat out of gear. Yeah, yeah, yeah! It’s out of gear, it’s out of gear! Alright. Now. Yeah, handle the arrow. OH! YEAH BABY! That, is whale blubber! Ok we have a second, second, tissue sample, and again we’ve got skin right at the junction, and we’ve got blubber hanging out of the tip. So we’ve got a very good second sample of blubber that will allow us to assess for the presence of these pollutant chemicals. Oh my gosh! So the team have obtained their second biopsy. By the sound of the crew, it went rather well. The animal was keen to remind the team not to get too close to its enormous tail! Collecting the other three biopsies took some time, but eventually Neil, and Choy, got what they needed for a successful toxin study. Ok, so what we’re going to do now is, er, transfer our samples that we got on the boat, out of the biopsy tips, into some glass vials for freezing. Lay this flat. Yeah. And we’re gonna push this sample in, past the barbs. And then we should be able to pull and extract it. Oh. Look at that! There is the sample. Beautiful, core. So we have skin at the top. Yeah, blubber layer underneath. Yeah, and the blubber, this fat layer here, that’s where, um, things like persistent organic pollutants, um, any kind of pollutants, um, tend to hang out inside the, er, blubber tissue, and because whales are so fatty they typically carry a lot of it. So, there’s one sample ready to go. We’re gonna freeze these, put them in a deep freeze, and then they’re gonna get sent off to Doctor Ken Drouillard, er, at the, Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research, and what they’re gonna do is a toxicology study on these, and just let us know what they find. So we’re really excited about this, and all in all, Wicked. that little sample, that, is an awesome success. Priceless. That sample is priceless.Ok, are we good to go? I think we’re good to go. We’re good to go. Next, Neil, is going to attempt to take a biopsy from his own stomach fat. This human tissue will be tested for the same toxins as the whales. The results will be used as a comparison with the humpback results. Before they get the chance to do that they come across something rather special! We’re here on, Sally Tucker’s Bank, just off the southwest edge of Bermuda, and we’ve come upon a mother humpback and her calf. They’ve made a one thousand mile journey up from the Caribbean, and she’s been nursing the calf. We’ve just sent the helicopter overhead to get us some ariel views of this amazing scene. This calf is around twenty feet long and weighs around one point five tonnes. It’s feeding frequently on it’s mother’s fat, rich milk.There is a risk that this milk may be transferring toxins to this calf. As this young whale feeds, it may be innocently inheriting the health problems associated with these toxins. The very essence of life for this calf could be playing a key role in transferring contaminants from one generation to another. After working so closely, and also swimming with these whales, i’ve developed a profound sense of empathy and respect for them. They’ve evolved over millions of years into highly intelligent creatures. Man started slaughtering them for their blubber in the late fifteen hundreds and sadly, although illegal worldwide, we know the practice does still continue. If our research reveals the presence of toxins in these animals, perhaps we can all give consideration and thought to stop treating our oceans as some massive garbage dump. Back on dry land, Choy, is preparing Neil for a rather unusual surgical procedure. So, Choy, and I, are here at Endsmeet, where I work on a daily basis. I’m gonna use the same biopsy cutting tip that we’ve used on the whales, on myself, to show that this is not that bad a deal. I’m gonna take a sample of my fat, so that I can look for the presence of the same toxins that we’re looking at in the whale. We’re gonna use a very sharp cutting tip to make the first hole. I’m a little nervous about this, i’ve never done this before. So i’m just going to be brutal, i’m going to push this in, i’m going to cut my skin, right the way through, like that. I’ve cut the skin, there’s the skin popping out. I’m now going to place the cutting tip on here, push that in there, and i’m gonna drive it in, like that! I’ve now got a large sample of my own body fat in this device. There is no denying Neil Burnie’s commitment to the cause. He’s just removed a large chunk of his own body fat, and hardly flinched! In comparison both samples are a similar size, but the whale blubber is considerably more rigid. So, so, you can see from looking at this that we’ve got exactly the same thing, the difference is my skin is not black, my skin is kind of pink, and the blubber, instead of being white in the case of the whale, is somewhat yellow. Next, we’re gonna place Neil’s fat sample in one of our solvent rinsed, glass vials, and then it’s going to be sent off to, Doctor Ken Drouillard, at the University of Windsor, for analysis with the whale samples that we’ve taken from the biopsies. Sticky stuff. And, finally, the final step is just to place a couple of little stitches in the skin to close this up. Job is done. This is how much it means to me to protect our oceans. During the biopsy reports of a dead sperm whale surrounded by multiple sharks reached the team.The whale’s blubber is an incredible source of energy for these sharks. Eventually they will consume the majority of the meat, and the sperm whale will slowly sink to the bottom of the ocean.To get closer to the action, Choy, has climbed onto the whale. With hungry sharks in a feeding frenzy, this is extremely dangerous! This is absolutely mental! This must be what it’s like to be prey! Choy, moves his cameras right into the feeding zone, capturing some stunning video of tigers ripping and sawing large chunks off the whale. This type of wild feeding is very rarely seen. It goes to show how efficient the marine ecosystem is at recycling energy back into the food chain. Look at that! Look at the sawing motion! Ugh! full mouthful! This is probably the most unbelievable thing! Three full grown tiger sharks feeding off a whale carcass, out to sea, while i’m sitting on it. Unreal! Choy’s experience with this sperm whale is a stark reminder to the importance of their humpback toxin study. As is the case of the baby humpback and it’s mother, these sharks will also ingest any toxins that reside in the sperm whale blubber. It’s another reminder of how man-made chemicals can pass through the marine ecosystem. Ok. You’re Doctor Ken? Yes, Sir. Doctor Ken, I’m pleased to meet you. I’m, Neil Burnie. How are you, man? Five Months have passed. Samples have been analysed by, Doctor Ken Drouillard, a Professor in contaminant and bioaccumulation modelling, from the, Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research, in, Canada. Ken, has arrived in, Bermuda, to reveal the results. So, Ken, it’s now five months since we took those biopsies from the whales, and one from me. I’m dying to know what kind of results you’ve got from your studies. Well, now, the good news is is the samples came in really well preserved, and intact, er, nicely labelled. We were able to finish the analyses. Er, when we looked at the whale samples that you brought to us, couple of interesting results came about first of all. First, there were six whales. Three of them had a very different signature, different chemical fingerprint, than the other three. So one group of whale is, er, basically more enriched in the industrial chemicals like PCB’s. The other group is more enriched in the insecticides like DDT. And, er, when we compare that across different whale populations, what we’ve, what we’ve found is that one of these groups of whales tends to resemble a little bit more of the signature that’s closer to the sort of the Atlantic, er, populations that’ve been sampled in the past. That’s what we would expect from Bermuda. Right. But then, the other, the other group tends to look a lot more, the ones that are enriched in the pesticides, tends to look more like populations that’ve been sampled around the West Coast, er, of North America. So, and, again without not knowing the, the, life history of these samples, it, it, does tend to suggest that these, these, whales have different movement profiles. Ok! He’s coming up to the surface! Stay there, stay there, stay there! Right, Neil. Pace it, pace it! Ready! Ready! Yeah! Ken’s, results suggests that the whales are using, Bermuda, as a mid-migratory meeting point. They also show it’s possible to work out where they spend their time, by understanding the concentrations of chemicals present in different parts of the world’s oceans. So, I guess we should talk about your results, Neil? Er, of course we should talk about my results. Yes. Yes, please tell us about his results! Alright, so the good news is, is, you have much lower concentrations than what we’ve seen in, in, in the whales. But in terms of your whales, your whales do have higher levels, and there, if we compare them to the toxicity thresholds, er, for the same types of compounds, they’re about a tenth of where we start to expect to see reproductive impacts and other associated affects. But, but, comparatively my fat to their fat, out of their blubber, they’re in worse shape than I am. They’re in worse shape than you. So, here, somebody who’s living in an industrialised society, eating food out of plastic containers, sitting on flame retardant enriched furniture, and breathing a bunch of smog in in the cities in England that I lived in, I’m way better off than these poor whales who are swimming in what, until now, we used to consider is a pristine ocean. It’s food for thought, and something that we should all be very aware of. We are poisoning our oceans. Here are these whales, they’re ingesting food, and they’re swimming through a poisoned ocean, and it’s all man-made chemicals. Exactly. It’s a sobering thought.So, Chris Flook! Great to meet you man, what are we doing out here today? Next time on, Ocean Vet, Neil, and the team work with the legendary Bermudian, Chris Flook. A bit of fungus or something growing on a tree. Together, they’ll be showcasing the importance of sargassum seaweed and all it’s endemic species. And also, up at the top, we’ve got a juvenile mahi-mahi. Along the way, the team will discover how this seaweed is connected to Bermuda’s impressive mangrove swamps, stunning coral reef, deep, offshore habitats, and to one of the fastest fish in the ocean, the beautiful wahoo!


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