[MARMAM] New publication: Changes of airway microbiota in humpback whales

Catharina Vendl c.vendl at unsw.edu.au
Sun Aug 2 17:35:25 PDT 2020

Dear colleagues,

Do the bacterial communities in the airways of whales reflect the physical state of the whales? We found first evidence that they do.

We would like to announce the publication of our paper 'Respiratory microbiota of humpback whales may be reduced in diversity and richness the longer they fast' in Scientific Reports last week.

The paper is available (free access) via:

The Australian Academy of Science created this short video about the paper:

This is the press release of the University of New South Wales:
Whale 'snot' reveals likely poor health during migration | UNSW Newsroom<https://newsroom.unsw.edu.au/news/science-tech/whale-snot-reveals-likely-poor-health-during-migration>
Whale-watching season is delighting the viewing public along the east Australian coast but while it’s a boon for the tourism industry, for the majestic humpback whale it’s potentially a time of less optimal health.

Humpback whales endure several months of fasting while undertaking one of the longest annual migrations of any mammal, which depletes the whales’ energy stores and likely compromises their physiological state. Airway microbiota are linked to respiratory health in mammals. To illuminate the dynamics of airway microbiota in a physiologically challenged mammal, we investigated the bacterial communities in the blow of East Australian humpback whales at two stages of their migration: at the beginning (n = 20) and several months into their migration (n = 20), using barcoded tag sequencing of the bacterial 16S rRNA gene. We show that early in the fasting the whale blow samples had a higher diversity and richness combined with a larger number of core taxa and a different bacterial composition than later in the fasting. This study provides some evidence that the rich blow microbiota at the beginning of their fasting might reflect the whales’ uncompromised physiology and that changes in the microbiota occur during the whales’ migration.

Thank you and kind regards,

Catharina Vendl | DVM | PhD |
Inter-Disciplinary Ecology and Evolution Lab |
School of Biology, Earth & Environmental Sciences |
University of New South Wales Sydney | Australia |
Phone +61 4 1655 2101
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