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Graduate Student to Research Stable Isotopes in Pygmy Sperm Whale Teeth

College of Charleston Master’s student, Nicole Montey, under the direction of a scientist from the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, Wayne McFee, was one of two students recently awarded the Master of Environmental Studies Graduate Assistantship for student research and travel. Nicole’s research will use stable isotope analysis of teeth from pygmy sperm whales to determine possible migratory behaviors of this species.

Previous studies of pygmy sperm whales stranded in the southeastern US have shown exposure of these whales to domoic acid, a potential toxin produced by the dinoflagellate Pseudonitschia.  This species also has a high prevalence of cardiomyopathy, an idiopathic heart disease that affects humans as well.

Pygmy sperm whale distribution and population status are poorly understood as they are rarely observed at sea, yet are the second most commonly stranded species of marine mammal in the southeastern US. Most of what researchers know about this species comes from stranded animals. Nicole’s research will provide critical information to better identify migratory patterns that could help researchers determine areas of risk to domoic acid exposure. For more information contact

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