Rhode Island students complete beluga whale study

This study aimed to develop a non-invasive means to isolate DNA from beluga whales.
This study aimed to develop a non-invasive means to isolate DNA from beluga whales. | File photo

Eleven University of Rhode Island students helped complete a study regarding the reproductive status of beluga whales.

This study aimed to develop a non-invasive means to isolate DNA from the animals and to determine how this related to behavioral observations. This research was led by Rhode Island doctoral student Justin Richard.

Richard explains that current methods of sample collection involve a biopsy dart that is shot into the animal. He proposed that it may be possible to collect the same information from what the team calls whale’s snot.

The team also included recent graduates from Rhode Island -- Krystle Schultz, Rachael Desfosses and Dan Catizone -- alongside eight current undergraduate students.

“The students were involved in all aspects of the project,” Richard said. “The project wouldn’t have happened without their help.”  

Beluga samples were collected from animals that reside in the Mystic Aquarium. In addition to sample collection, the team also filmed the whales to keep visuals of behavior changes. According to the university, this kind of research is difficult in the wild as the information needed cannot be obtained through observation alone. Richard said his aim was to correlate reproductive physiology and behavioral changes.

This research was presented at the Greater Atlantic Regional Stranding Conference.

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