Research Report: Whales resume ancient migration patterns


Scientists have documented the first known migration of blue whales from the coast of California to areas off British Columbia and the Gulf of Alaska since the end of commercial whaling in 1965. Blue whales were severely depleted in these regions during the whaling era of the early 1900s.

Fifteen separate cases of blue whales seen off British Columbia and the Gulf of Alaska were documented. By comparing skin pigmentation patterns and dorsal fin shape in blue whale photographs taken in the North Pacific Ocean since 1997 with a library of nearly two thousand photographs of West Coast blue whales, a positive identification was made of four animals previously observed off the California coast.

This suggests a re-establishment of a historical migration pattern.

American and Canadian scientists, including researchers from NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, participated in the study, which appears in the journal Marine Mammal Science.

New therapy for a childhood cancer

Neuroblastoma--in which cancer cells arise from nerve cells in the neck, chest or abdomen--is the most common cancer diagnosed in the first year of life. Hard to treat, it is responsible for 15 percent of cancer-related deaths in children.

Researchers at the UCSD School of Medicine and the Moores UCSD Cancer Center report findings from a phase III study that shows adding an antibody-based therapy that harnesses the body’s immune system leads to a 20 percent increase in the number of children with neuroblastoma living disease-free for at least two years.

This is the first study to show that immunotherapy could be effective against childhood cancer and establishes a new method of care for a traditionally very difficult cancer to treat. The study appeared May 14 on the American Society of Clinical Oncology Web site in advance of a presentation at the society’s 45th annual meeting.

Ice formation in clouds

Most of us think “spray can” when we read the word “aerosols.” But to climate scientists aerosols connote small atmospheric particles. Among the most difficult aspects of weather and climate for scientists to understand is the effect that aerosols have on cloud formation. A team of Scripps Institution of Oceanography-led atmospheric chemistry researchers is closer to an answer following the first-ever direct detection of biological particles within ice clouds.

An analysis of water droplets and ice crystals--collected by aircraft flying at high speeds through clouds over Wyoming--revealed that they were made up almost entirely of either dust or (surprisingly) biological particles such as bacteria, fungal spores, and plant material.

Questions remain as to which particles form ice nuclei in order to more fully understand the processes that result in precipitation. The study appears in the online edition of the journal Nature Geoscience.