Miller Carolyn

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  • Article
    Respiration cycle duration and seawater flux through open blowholes of humpback (Megaptera novaeangliae) and North Atlantic right (Eubalaena glacialis) whales
    (Wiley, 2020-05-29) Martins, Maria Clara Iruzun ; Miller, Carolyn ; Hamilton, Philip K. ; Robbins, Jooke ; Zitterbart, Daniel ; Moore, Michael J.
    Little is known about the dynamics of baleen whale respiratory cycles, especially the mechanics and activity of the blowholes and their interaction with seawater. In this study, the duration of complete respiration cycles (expiration/inhalation events) were quantified for the first time in two species: North Atlantic right whale (NARW) and humpback whale (HW) using high resolution, detailed imagery from an unoccupied aerial system (UAS). The mean duration of complete respiration cycles (expiration/inhalation event) in the NARW and HW were 3.07 s (SD = 0.503, n = 15) and 2.85 s (SD = 0.581, n = 21), respectively. Furthermore, we saw no significant differences in respiration cycle duration between age and sex classes in the NARW, but significant differences were observed between age classes in the HW. The observation of seawater covering an open blowhole was also quantified, with NARW having 20% of all breaths with seawater presence versus 90% in HW. Seawater incursion has not been described previously and challenges the general consensus that water does not enter the respiratory tract in baleen whales. Prevalent seawater has implications for the analysis and interpretation of exhaled respiratory vapor/mucosa samples, as well as for the potential inhalation of oil in spills.
  • Article
    Population comparison of right whale body condition reveals poor state of the North Atlantic right whale
    (Inter Research, 2020-04-23) Christiansen, Fredrik ; Dawson, Stephen M. ; Durban, John W. ; Fearnbach, Holly ; Miller, Carolyn A. ; Bejder, Lars ; Uhart, Marcela ; Sironi, Mariano ; Corkeron, Peter ; Rayment, William ; Leunissen, Eva ; Haria, Eashani ; Ward, Rhianne ; Warick, Hunter A. ; Kerr, Iain ; Lynn, Morgan S. ; Pettis, Heather M. ; Moore, Michael J.
    The North Atlantic right whale Eubalaena glacialis (NARW), currently numbering <410 individuals, is on a trajectory to extinction. Although direct mortality from ship strikes and fishing gear entanglements remain the major threats to the population, reproductive failure, resulting from poor body condition and sublethal chronic entanglement stress, is believed to play a crucial role in the population decline. Using photogrammetry from unmanned aerial vehicles, we conducted the largest population assessment of right whale body condition to date, to determine if the condition of NARWs was poorer than 3 seemingly healthy (i.e. growing) populations of southern right whales E. australis (SRWs) in Argentina, Australia and New Zealand. We found that NARW juveniles, adults and lactating females all had lower body condition scores compared to the SRW populations. While some of the difference could be the result of genetic isolation and adaptations to local environmental conditions, the magnitude suggests that NARWs are in poor condition, which could be suppressing their growth, survival, age of sexual maturation and calving rates. NARW calves were found to be in good condition. Their body length, however, was strongly determined by the body condition of their mothers, suggesting that the poor condition of lactating NARW females may cause a reduction in calf growth rates. This could potentially lead to a reduction in calf survival or an increase in female calving intervals. Hence, the poor body condition of individuals within the NARW population is of major concern for its future viability.
  • Article
    Coordinated transformation of the gut microbiome and lipidome of bowhead whales provides novel insights into digestion
    (Springer Nature, 2019-12-02) Miller, Carolyn A. ; Holm, Henry C. ; Horstmann, Lara ; George, John C. ; Fredricks, Helen F. ; Van Mooy, Benjamin A. S. ; Apprill, Amy
    Whale digestion plays an integral role in many ocean ecosystems. By digesting enormous quantities of lipid-rich prey, whales support their energy intensive lifestyle, but also excrete nutrients important to ocean biogeochemical cycles. Nevertheless, whale digestion is poorly understood. Gastrointestinal microorganisms play a significant role in vertebrate digestion, but few studies have examined them in whales. To investigate digestion of lipids, and the potential contribution of microbes to lipid digestion in whales, we characterized lipid composition (lipidomes) and bacterial communities (microbiotas) in 126 digesta samples collected throughout the gastrointestinal tracts of 38 bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus) harvested by Alaskan Eskimos. Lipidomes and microbiotas were strongly correlated throughout the gastrointestinal tract. Lipidomes and microbiotas were most variable in the small intestine and most similar in the large intestine, where microbiota richness was greatest. Our results suggest digestion of wax esters, the primary lipids in B. mysticetus prey representing more than 80% of total dietary lipids, occurred in the mid- to distal small intestine and was correlated with specific microorganisms. Because wax esters are difficult to digest by other marine vertebrates and constitute a large reservoir of carbon in the ocean, our results further elucidate the essential roles that whales and their gastrointestinal microbiotas play in the biogeochemical cycling of carbon and nutrients in high-latitude seas.
  • Article
    Assessing North Atlantic Right whale health: a review of threats, and development of tools critical for conservation of the species
    (Inter Research, 2021-02-25) Moore, Michael J. ; Rowles, Teresa K. ; Fauquier, Deborah A. ; Baker, Jason T. ; Biedron, Ingrid S. ; Durban, John W. ; Hamilton, Philip K. ; Henry, Allison G. ; Knowlton, Amy R. ; McLellan, William A. ; Miller, Carolyn A. ; Pace, Richard M., III ; Pettis, Heather M. ; Raverty, Stephen A. ; Rolland, Rosalind M. ; Schick, Robert S. ; Sharp, Sarah M. ; Smith, Cynthia R. ; Thomas, Len ; van der Hoop, Julie M. ; Ziccard, Michael H.
    Whaling decimated North Atlantic right whales (Eubalaena glacialis - NARW) since the 11th century and southern right whales (E. australis - SRW) since the 19th century. Today, NARWs are critically endangered and decreasing, whereas SRWs are recovering. We review NARW health assessment literature, NARW Consortium databases, and efforts and limitations to monitor individual and species health, survival, and fecundity. Photographs are used to track individual movement and external signs of health such as evidence of vessel and entanglement trauma. Post mortem examinations establish cause of death and determine organ pathology. Photogrammetry is used to assess growth rates and body condition. Samples of blow, skin, blubber, baleen and feces quantify hormones that provide information on stress, reproduction, and nutrition, identify microbiome changes, and assess evidence of infection. We also discuss models of the population consequences of multiple stressors, including the connection between human activities (e.g., entanglement) and health. Lethal and sublethal vessel and entanglement trauma have been identified as major threats to the species. There is a clear and immediate need for expanding trauma reduction measures. Beyond these major concerns, further study is needed to evaluate the impact of other stressors, such as pathogens, microbiome changes, and algal and industrial toxins, on NARW reproductive success and health. Current and new health assessment tools should be developed and used to monitor the effectiveness of management measures, and will help determine whether they are sufficient for a substantive species recovery.
  • Article
    Larger females have more calves: influence of maternal body length on fecundity in North Atlantic right whales
    (Inter Research, 2022-05-12) Stewart, Joshua D. ; Durban, John W. ; Europe, Hollis ; Fearnbach, Holly ; Hamilton, Philip K. ; Knowlton, Amy R. ; Lynn, Morgan S. ; Miller, Carolyn A. ; Perryman, Wayne L. ; Tao, Brandon W. H. ; Moore, Michael J.
    North Atlantic right whales (NARW) are critically endangered and have been declining in abundance since 2011. In the past decade, human-caused mortalities from vessel strikes and entanglements have been increasing, while birth rates in the population are at a 40 yr low. In addition to declining abundance, recent studies have shown that NARW length-at-age is decreasing due to the energetic impacts of sub-lethal entanglements, and that the body condition of the population is poorer than closely related southern right whales. We examined whether shorter body lengths are associated with reduced fecundity in female NARW. We compared age-corrected, modeled metrics of body length with 3 metrics of fecundity: age at first reproduction, average inter-birth interval, and the number of calves produced per potential reproductive year. We found that body length is significantly related to birth interval and calves produced per reproductive year, but not age at first reproduction. Larger whales had shorter inter-birth intervals and produced more calves per potential reproductive year. Larger whales also had higher lifetime calf production, but this was a result of larger whales having longer potential reproductive spans, as body lengths have generally been declining over the past 40 yr. Declining body sizes are a potential contributor to low birth rates over the past decade. Efforts to reduce entanglements and vessel strikes could help maintain population viability by increasing fecundity and improving resiliency of the population to other anthropogenic and climate impacts.
  • Article
    Differential patterns of microbiota recovery in symbiotic and aposymbiotic corals following antibiotic disturbance
    (American Society for Microbiology, 2021-04-13) Bent, Shavonna M. ; Miller, Carolyn A. ; Sharp, Koty H. ; Hansel, Colleen M. ; Apprill, Amy
    Microbial relationships are critical to coral health, and changes in microbiomes are often exhibited following environmental disturbance. However, the dynamics of coral-microbial composition and external factors that govern coral microbiome assembly and response to disturbance remain largely uncharacterized. Here, we investigated how antibiotic-induced disturbance affects the coral mucus microbiota in the facultatively symbiotic temperate coral Astrangia poculata, which occurs naturally with high (symbiotic) or low (aposymbiotic) densities of the endosymbiotic dinoflagellate Breviolum psygmophilum. We also explored how differences in the mucus microbiome of natural and disturbed A. poculata colonies affected levels of extracellular superoxide, a reactive oxygen species thought to have both beneficial and detrimental effects on coral health. Using a bacterial and archaeal small-subunit (SSU) rRNA gene sequencing approach, we found that antibiotic exposure significantly altered the composition of the mucus microbiota but that it did not influence superoxide levels, suggesting that superoxide production in A. poculata is not influenced by the mucus microbiota. In antibiotic-treated A. poculata exposed to ambient seawater, mucus microbiota recovered to its initial state within 2 weeks following exposure, and six bacterial taxa played a prominent role in this reassembly. Microbial composition among symbiotic colonies was more similar throughout the 2-week recovery period than that among aposymbiotic colonies, whose microbiota exhibited significantly more interindividual variability after antibiotic treatment and during recovery. This work suggests that the A. poculata mucus microbiome can rapidly reestablish itself and that the presence of B. psygmophilum, perhaps by supplying nutrients, photosynthate, or other signaling molecules, exerts influence on this process. IMPORTANCE Corals are animals whose health is often maintained by symbiotic microalgae and other microorganisms, yet they are highly susceptible to environmental-related disturbances. Here, we used a known disruptor, antibiotics, to understand how the coral mucus microbial community reassembles itself following disturbance. We show that the Astrangia poculata microbiome can recover from this disturbance and that individuals with algal symbionts reestablish their microbiomes in a more consistent manner compared to corals lacking symbionts. This work is important because it suggests that this coral may be able to recover its mucus microbiome following disturbance, it identifies specific microbes that may be important to reassembly, and it demonstrates that algal symbionts may play a previously undocumented role in microbial recovery and resilience to environmental change.
  • Article
    Body size data collected non-invasively from drone images indicate a morphologically distinct Chilean blue whale (Blaenoptera musculus) taxon
    (Inter Research, 2020-11-05) Leslie, Matthew S. ; Perkins-Taylor, Colin M. ; Durban, John W. ; Moore, Michael J. ; Miller, Carolyn A. ; Chanarat, Proud ; Bahamonde, Paulina A. ; Chiang, Gustavo ; Apprill, Amy
    The blue whale Balaenoptera musculus (Linnaeus, 1758) was the target of intense commercial whaling in the 20th century, and current populations remain drastically below pre-whaling abundances. Reducing uncertainty in subspecific taxonomy would enable targeted conservation strategies for the recovery of unique intraspecific diversity. Currently, there are 2 named blue whale subspecies in the temperate to polar Southern Hemisphere: the Antarctic blue whale B. m. intermedia and the pygmy blue whale B. m. brevicauda. These subspecies have distinct morphologies, genetics, and acoustics. In 2019, the Society for Marine Mammalogy’s Committee on Taxonomy agreed that evidence supports a third (and presently unnamed) subspecies of Southern Hemisphere blue whale subspecies, the Chilean blue whale. Whaling data indicate that the Chilean blue whale is intermediate in body length between pygmy and Antarctic blue whales. We collected body size data from blue whales in the Gulfo Corcovado, Chile, during the austral summers of 2015 and 2017 using aerial photogrammetry from a remotely controlled drone to test the hypothesis that the Chilean blue whale is morphologically distinct from other Southern Hemisphere blue whale subspecies. We found the Chilean whale to be morphologically intermediate in both overall body length and relative tail length, thereby joining other diverse data in supporting the Chilean blue whale as a unique subspecific taxon. Additional photogrammetry studies of Antarctic, pygmy, and Chilean blue whales will help examine unique morphological variation within this species of conservation concern. To our knowledge, this is the first non-invasive small drone study to test a hypothesis for systematic biology.
  • Article
    Blubber thickness in right whales Eubalaena glacialis and Eubalaena australis related with reproduction, life history status and prey abundance
    (Inter-Research, 2011-10-05) Miller, Carolyn A. ; Reeb, Desray ; Best, Peter B. ; Knowlton, Amy R. ; Brown, Moira W. ; Moore, Michael J.
    The high variability in reproductive performance of North Atlantic right whales Eubalaena glacialis compared to southern right whales Eubalaena australis may reflect differences in lipid reserves. Amplitude-mode ultrasound was used to measure the thickness of right whale integument (epidermis and blubber, herein referred to as blubber thickness) in E. glacialis in the Bay of Fundy, Canada for 5 summer seasons and in E. australis off the South African coast for 2 austral winter seasons. E. glacialis had significantly thinner blubber layers (mean ±1 SD = 12.23 ± 2.16 cm, n = 172) than E. australis (16.13 ± 3.88 cm, n = 117), suggesting differing levels of nutrition between the 2 species. Blubber was thickest in females measured 3 to 6 mo prior to the start of pregnancy (E. glacialis), thinner during ­lactation (E. glacialis, E. australis) and then thicker with time after weaning (E. glacialis). These results suggest that lipids in blubber are used as energetic support for reproduction in female right whales. Blubber thickness increased in calves during suckling (E. glacialis, E. australis) but sub­sequently decreased after weaning (E. glacialis). Juvenile and adult male E. glacialis blubber thicknesses were compared between years of differing prey Calanus finmarchicus abundances (data from Pershing et al. 2005; ICES J Mar Sci 62:1511–1523); during a year of low prey abundance whales had significantly thinner blubber than during years of greater prey abundance. Taken together, these results suggest that blubber thickness is indicative of right whale energy balance and that the marked fluctuations in North Atlantic right whale reproduction have a nutritional component.
  • Article
    Investigating the thermal physiology of critically endangered North Atlantic right whales Eubalaena glacialis via aerial infrared thermography
    (Inter Research, 2022-07-21) Lonati, Gina ; Zitterbart, Daniel ; Miller, Carolyn A. ; Corkeron, Peter ; Murphy, Christin T. ; Moore, Michael J.
    The Critically Endangered status of North Atlantic right whales Eubalaena glacialis (NARWs) warrants the development of new, less invasive technology to monitor the health of individuals. Combined with advancements in remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS, commonly ‘drones’), infrared thermography (IRT) is being increasingly used to detect and count marine mammals and study their physiology. We conducted RPAS-based IRT over NARWs in Cape Cod Bay, MA, USA, in 2017 and 2018. Observations demonstrated 3 particularly useful applications of RPAS-based IRT to study large whales: (1) exploring patterns of cranial heat loss and providing insight into the physiological mechanisms that produce these patterns; (2) tracking subsurface individuals in real-time (depending on the thermal stratification of the water column) using cold surface water anomalies resulting from fluke upstrokes; and (3) detecting natural changes in superficial blood circulation or diagnosing pathology based on heat anomalies on post-cranial body surfaces. These qualitative applications present a new, important opportunity to study, monitor, and conserve large whales, particularly rare and at-risk species such as NARWs. Despite the challenges of using this technology in aquatic environments, the applications of RPAS-based IRT for monitoring the health and behavior of endangered marine mammals, including the collection of quantitative data on thermal physiology, will continue to diversify.
  • Working Paper
    Large whale disentanglement technology workshop
    ( 2002-01-16) Moore, Michael J. ; Reeb, Desray ; Miller, Carolyn A. ; Smith, Dan
    This workshop set out to conceive and plan the necessary technology to improve disentanglement of large whales at sea. The overwhelming message from the presentations and discussions included in this report is of the enormity of the problem and risk facing management of severe entanglements. The need for entanglement avoidance screams out from these pages.
  • Preprint
    Behavioral impacts of disentanglement of a right whale under sedation and the energetic cost of entanglement
    ( 2013-03) van der Hoop, Julie ; Moore, Michael J. ; Fahlman, Andreas ; Bocconcelli, Alessandro ; George, Clay ; Jackson, Katharine ; Miller, Carolyn A. ; Morin, David ; Pitchford, Thomas ; Rowles, Teresa K. ; Smith, Jamison ; Zoodsma, Barb
    Protracted entanglement in fishing gear often leads to emaciation through reduced mobility and foraging ability, and energy budget depletion from the added drag of towing gear for months or years. We examined changes in kinematics of a tagged entangled North Atlantic right whale (Eg 3911), before, during and after disentanglement on 15 Jan 2011. To calculate the additional drag forces and energetic demand associated with various gear configurations, we towed three sets of gear attached to a load-cell tensiometer at multiple speeds. Tag analyses revealed significant increases in dive depth and duration; ascent, descent and fluke stroke rates; and decreases in root mean square fluke amplitude (a proxy for thrust) following disentanglement. Conservative drag coefficients while entangled in all gear configurations (mean ± SD Cd,e,go = 3.4x10-3 ± 0.0003, Cd,e,gb = 3.7x10-3 ± 0.0003, Cd,e,sl = 3.8x10-3 ± 0.0004) were significantly greater than in the nonentangled case (Cd,n = 3.2x10-3±0.0003; P = 0.0156, 0.0312, 0.0078 respectively). Increases in total power input (including standard metabolism) over the nonentangled condition ranged 1.6%-120.9% for all gear configurations tested; locomotory power requirements increased 60.0%-164.6%. These results highlight significant alteration to swimming patterns, and the magnitude of energy depletion in a chronically entangled whale.
  • Article
    Extensive core microbiome in drone-captured whale blow supports a framework for health monitoring
    (American Society for Microbiology, 2017-10-10) Apprill, Amy ; Miller, Carolyn A. ; Moore, Michael J. ; Durban, John W. ; Fearnbach, Holly ; Barrett-Lennard, Lance G.
    The pulmonary system is a common site for bacterial infections in cetaceans, but very little is known about their respiratory microbiome. We used a small, unmanned hexacopter to collect exhaled breath condensate (blow) from two geographically distinct populations of apparently healthy humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae), sampled in the Massachusetts coastal waters off Cape Cod (n = 17) and coastal waters around Vancouver Island (n = 9). Bacterial and archaeal small-subunit rRNA genes were amplified and sequenced from blow samples, including many of sparse volume, as well as seawater and other controls, to characterize the associated microbial community. The blow microbiomes were distinct from the seawater microbiomes and included 25 phylogenetically diverse bacteria common to all sampled whales. This core assemblage comprised on average 36% of the microbiome, making it one of the more consistent animal microbiomes studied to date. The closest phylogenetic relatives of 20 of these core microbes were previously detected in marine mammals, suggesting that this core microbiome assemblage is specialized for marine mammals and may indicate a healthy, noninfected pulmonary system. Pathogen screening was conducted on the microbiomes at the genus level, which showed that all blow and few seawater microbiomes contained relatives of bacterial pathogens; no known cetacean respiratory pathogens were detected in the blow. Overall, the discovery of a shared large core microbiome in humpback whales is an important advancement for health and disease monitoring of this species and of other large whales.
  • Moving Image
    Humpback Whale Seawater Entry Videos
    (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, 2017-07-14) Martins, Maria Clara Iruzun ; Miller, Carolyn ; Hamilton, Philip K. ; Robbins, Jooke ; Zitterbart, Daniel ; Moore, Michael
    These UAS video files show 2 individual humpback whales at the moment where seawater covers and enters the blowholes. Videos here are at half the speed of original UAS videos in order to fully capture the fast moment of seawater entering the blowhole. All videos were taken at Stellwagen Bank under NMFS NOAA Permits 17355, 17355-01 and 21371, and with approval from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee.
  • Article
    Marine mammal skin microbiotas are influenced by host phylogeny
    (The Royal Society, 2020-05-20) Apprill, Amy ; Miller, Carolyn A. ; Van Cise, Amy M. ; U'Ren, Jana M. ; Leslie, Matthew S. ; Weber, Laura ; Baird, Robin W. ; Robbins, Jooke ; Landry, Scott ; Bogomolni, Andrea L. ; Waring, Gordon T.
    Skin-associated microorganisms have been shown to play a role in immune function and disease of humans, but are understudied in marine mammals, a diverse animal group that serve as sentinels of ocean health. We examined the microbiota associated with 75 epidermal samples opportunistically collected from nine species within four marine mammal families, including: Balaenopteridae (sei and fin whales), Phocidae (harbour seal), Physeteridae (sperm whales) and Delphinidae (bottlenose dolphins, pantropical spotted dolphins, rough-toothed dolphins, short-finned pilot whales and melon-headed whales). The skin was sampled from free-ranging animals in Hawai‘i (Pacific Ocean) and off the east coast of the United States (Atlantic Ocean), and the composition of the bacterial community was examined using the sequencing of partial small subunit (SSU) ribosomal RNA genes. Skin microbiotas were significantly different among host species and taxonomic families, and microbial community distance was positively correlated with mitochondrial-based host genetic divergence. The oceanic location could play a role in skin microbiota variation, but skin from species sampled in both locations is necessary to determine this influence. These data suggest that a phylosymbiotic relationship may exist between microbiota and their marine mammal hosts, potentially providing specific health and immune-related functions that contribute to the success of these animals in diverse ocean ecosystems.
  • Preprint
    Microbial bioindicators of Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease identified in corals and overlying waters using a rapid field-based sequencing approach
    (Society for Applied Microbiology, 2021-08-25) Becker, Cynthia ; Brandt, Marilyn ; Miller, Carolyn A. ; Apprill, Amy
    Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease (SCTLD) is a devastating disease. Since 2014, it has spread along the entire Florida Reef Tract and into the greater Caribbean. It was first detected in the United States Virgin Islands in January 2019. To more quickly identify microbial bioindicators of disease, we developed a rapid pipeline for microbiome sequencing. Over a span of 10 days we collected, processed and sequenced coral and near-coral seawater microbiomes from diseased and apparently healthy Colpophyllia natans, Montastraea cavernosa, Meandrina meandrites and Orbicella franksi. Analysis of bacterial and archaeal 16S ribosomal RNA gene sequences revealed 25 bioindicator amplicon sequence variants (ASVs) enriched in diseased corals. These bioindicator ASVs were additionally recovered in near-coral seawater (<5 cm of coral surface), a potential reservoir for pathogens. Phylogenetic analysis of microbial bioindicators with sequences from the Coral Microbiome Database revealed that Vibrio, Arcobacter, Rhizobiaceae and Rhodobacteraceae sequences were related to disease-associated coral bacteria and lineages novel to corals. Additionally, four ASVs (Algicola, Cohaesibacter, Thalassobius and Vibrio) were matches to microbes previously associated with SCTLD that should be targets for future research. Overall, this work suggests that a rapid sequencing framework paired with specialized databases facilitates identification of microbial disease bioindicators.
  • Article
    Experimental transmission of Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease results in differential microbial responses within coral mucus and tissue
    (Springer, 2022-05-30) Huntley, Naomi ; Brandt, Marilyn ; Becker, Cynthia ; Miller, Carolyn A. ; Meiling, Sonora S. ; Correa, Adrienne M.S. ; Holstein, Daniel M. ; Muller, Erinn ; Mydlarz, Laura ; Smith, Tyler B. ; Apprill, Amy
    Stony coral tissue loss disease (SCTLD) is a widespread and deadly disease that affects nearly half of Caribbean coral species. To understand the microbial community response to this disease, we performed a disease transmission experiment on US Virgin Island (USVI) corals, exposing six species of coral with varying susceptibility to SCTLD. The microbial community of the surface mucus and tissue layers were examined separately using a small subunit ribosomal RNA gene-based sequencing approach, and data were analyzed to identify microbial community shifts following disease acquisition, potential causative pathogens, as well as compare microbiota composition to field-based corals from the USVI and Florida outbreaks. While all species displayed similar microbiome composition with disease acquisition, microbiome similarity patterns differed by both species and mucus or tissue microhabitat. Further, disease exposed but not lesioned corals harbored a mucus microbial community similar to those showing disease signs, suggesting that mucus may serve as an early warning detection for the onset of SCTLD. Like other SCTLD studies in Florida, Rhodobacteraceae, Arcobacteraceae, Desulfovibrionaceae, Peptostreptococcaceae, Fusibacter, Marinifilaceae, and Vibrionaceae dominated diseased corals. This study demonstrates the differential response of the mucus and tissue microorganisms to SCTLD and suggests that mucus microorganisms may be diagnostic for early disease exposure.
  • Article
    Temporal and regional variability in the skin microbiome of humpback whales along the Western Antarctic Peninsula
    (American Society for Microbiology, 2017-12-21) Bierlich, Kevin C. ; Miller, Carolyn A. ; DeForce, Emelia A. ; Friedlaender, Ari S. ; Johnston, David W. ; Apprill, Amy
    The skin is the first line of defense between an animal and its environment, and disruptions in skin-associated microorganisms can be linked to an animal's health and nutritional state. To better understand the skin microbiome of large whales, high-throughput sequencing of partial small subunit ribosomal RNA genes was used to study the skin-associated bacteria of 89 seemingly healthy humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) sampled along the Western Antarctic Peninsula (WAP) during early (2010) and late (2013) austral summers. Six core genera of bacteria were present in 93% or more of all humpback skin samples. A shift was observed in the average relative abundance of these core genera over time, with the emergence of four additional core genera corresponding to a decrease in water temperature, possibly caused by seasonal or foraging related changes in skin biochemistry that influenced microbial growth, or other temporal-related factors. The skin microbiome differed between whales sampled at several regional locations along the WAP, suggesting that environmental factors or population may also influence the whale skin microbiome. Overall, the skin microbiome of humpback whales appears to provide insight into animal and environmental-related factors and may serve as a useful indicator for animal health or ecosystem alterations.
  • Dataset
    Investigating thermal physiology in large whales via aerial infrared thermography
    (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, 2021-04-23) Lonati, Gina ; Zitterbart, Daniel ; Miller, Carolyn A. ; Corkeron, Peter ; Murphy, Christin T. ; Moore, Michael J.
    The critically endangered status of North Atlantic right whales (NARWs, Eubalaena glacialis) warrants the development of new, less invasive technology to monitor the health of individuals. Combined with advancements in remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS, commonly “drones”), infrared thermography (IRT) is being increasingly used to detect and count marine mammals and study their physiology. We conducted RPAS-based IRT over NARWs in Cape Cod Bay, Massachusetts, USA in 2017 and 2018. Observations demonstrated three particularly useful applications of RPAS-based IRT to study large whales: 1) exploring patterns of cranial heat loss and providing insight into the physiological mechanisms that produce these patterns; 2) tracking subsurface individuals in real-time (depending on the thermal stratification of the water column) using cold surface water anomalies resulting from fluke upstrokes; and 3) detecting natural changes in superficial blood circulation or diagnosing pathology based on hot anomalies on post-cranial body surfaces. These qualitative applications present a new, important opportunity to study and monitor large whales, particularly rare and at-risk species like NARWs. Despite the challenges of using this technology in aquatic environments, the applications of RPAS-based IRT for monitoring the health and behavior of endangered marine mammals, including the collection of quantitative data on thermal physiology, will continue to diversify.
  • Article
    Body shape changes associated with reproductive status, nutritive condition and growth in right whales Eubalaena glacialis and E. australis
    (Inter-Research, 2012-07-12) Miller, Carolyn A. ; Best, Peter B. ; Perryman, Wayne L. ; Baumgartner, Mark F. ; Moore, Michael J.
    Mammalian reproduction is metabolically regulated; therefore, the endangered status and high variability in reproduction of North Atlantic right whales Eubalaena glacialis necessitate accurate assessments at sea of the nutritional condition of living individuals. Aerial photogrammetry was used to measure dorsal body width at multiple locations along the bodies of free-swimming right whales at different stages of the female reproductive cycle (E. glacialis) and during the initial months of lactation (mother and calf Eubalaena australis) to quantify changes in nutritional condition during energetically demanding events. Principal components analyses indicated that body width was most variable at 60% of the body length from the snout. Thoracic, abdominal and caudal body width of E. australis thinned significantly during the initial months of lactation, especially at 60% of body length from the snout, while their calves’ widths and width-to-length ratios increased. The body shape of E. glacialis that had been lactating for 8 mo was significantly thinner than non-lactating, non-pregnant E. glacialis. Body shape of E. glacialis measured in the eighth month of lactation was significantly thinner than that of E. australis in the first month, but did not differ from that of E. australis in the third and fourth months. Body width was comparable with diameter calculated from girth of carcasses. These results indicate that mother right whales rely on endogenous nutrient reserves to support the considerable energy expenditure during the initial months of lactation; therefore, photogrammetric measurements of body width, particularly at 60% of body length from the snout, are an effective way to quantitatively and remotely assess nutritional condition of living right whales.