Project Information
Collaborative Research: A New Baseline for Antarctic Blue and Fin Whales
Start Date:
End Date:
An archive of baleen plates from 800 Antarctic blue and fin whales harvested between 1946 and 1948 was recently rediscovered in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. As baleen grows, it incorporates compounds from the whale’s diet and surroundings, recording continuous biological and oceanographic information across multiple years. The baleen record forms an ideal experimental platform for studying bottom-up, top-down and anthropogenic impacts on blue and fin whales. Such insights are likely impossible to obtain through any other means as blue and fin whales now number ~1 and 4% of their pre-whaling abundances. The baleen archive includes years with strong climate and temperature anomalies allowing the influence of climate variability on predators and the ecosystems that support them to be examined. Additionally, the impact of whaling on whale stress levels will be investigated by comparing years of intensive whaling with the non-whaling years of WWII, both of which are captured in the time series. We will use 1) bulk stable isotopes to examine the trophic dynamics of Antarctic blue and fin whales, 2) compound-specific stable isotope analysis (CSIA-AA) to characterize the biogeochemistry of the base of the Antarctic food web and 3) hormone analyses to examine the population biology of these species. These investigations will fill major gaps in our understanding of the largest krill predators, their response to disturbance and environmental change, and the impact that commercial whaling has had on the structure and function of the Antarctic marine ecosystem.
Person Role
Fleming, Alyson Investigator and contact
Friedlaender, Ari Investigator
McCarthy, Matthew Investigator
Hunt, Kathleen Investigator
Antarctic Organisms and Ecosystems Award # 1947453
Antarctic Organisms and Ecosystems Award # 1927742
Antarctic Organisms and Ecosystems Award # 1927709
AMD - DIF Record(s)
Data Management Plan
Product Level:
4 (model output and interpretations)
  1. Alejandro Fernández Ajó, Kathleen E. Hunt, Danielle Dillon, Marcela Uhart, Mariano Sironi, Victoria Rowntree, C. Loren Buck, Optimizing hormone extraction protocols for whale baleen: Tackling questions of solvent:sample ratio and variation, General and Comparative Endocrinology, Volume 315,2022,113828. (doi:10.1016/j.ygcen.2021.113828)
  2. Danielle Dillon, Alejandro Fernández Ajó, Kathleen E. Hunt, C. Loren Buck, Investigation of keratinase digestion to improve steroid hormone extraction from diverse keratinous tissues, General and Comparative Endocrinology, Volume 309, 2021, 113795. (doi:10.1016/j.ygcen.2021.113795)
  3. Fleming, A., Pobiner, B., Maynor, S., Webster, D., & Pyenson, N. D. (2022). New Holocene grey whale ( Eschrichtius robustus ) material from North Carolina: the most complete North Atlantic grey whale skeleton to date. Royal Society Open Science, 9(7). (doi:10.1098/rsos.220441)
  4. Fraleigh, D. C., Archer, F. I., Williard, A. S., Hückstädt, L. A., & Fleming, A. H. (2023). Possible niche compression and individual specialization in Pacific Arctic beluga (Delphinapterus leucas) from the 19th to 20th century. Ecology and Evolution, 13(7). Portico. (doi:10.1002/ece3.10230)
  5. Hunt KE, Buck CL, Ferguson SH, Fernández Ajó A, Heide-Jørgensen MP, Matthews CJD. 2022. Male bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus) reproductive histories inferred from baleen testosterone and stable isotopes. Integrative Organismal Biology, 4:obac014 (doi:10.1093/iob/obac014)
  6. Lowe CL, Hunt KE, Robbins J, Seton RE, Rogers M, Gabriele CM, Neilson JL, Landry S, Teerlink SS, Buck CL. 2021. Patterns of cortisol and corticosterone concentrations in humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) baleen differ with cause of death. Conservation Physiology, 9:coab096 (doi:10.1093/conphys/coab096)
  7. Lowe CL, Hunt KE, Neilson JL, Gabriele CM, Seton R, Robbins J, Teerlink SS, Buck CL. 2022. Reproductive steroid hormone patterns in baleen of two pregnant humpback whales Megaptera novaeangliae). Integrative and Comparative Biology 62:152-163 (doi:10.1093/icb/icac070)
  8. Lowe CL, Ward RJ, Hunt KE, Rogers MC, Werth AJ, Gabriele C, Neilson J, von Hippel FA, Buck CL. 2022. Case studies on longitudinal mercury content in humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) baleen. Heliyon 8:08681 (
  9. D'Agostino VC, Fernández Ajo A, Degrati M, Krock B, Hunt K, Uhart M, Buck CL. 2021. Potential endocrine correlation with exposure to domoic acid in southern right whale (Eubalaena australis). Oecologica 198:21-34 (
  10. Fraleigh, D. C., Pallin, L. J., Friedlaender, A. S., Barlow, J., Henry, A. E., Waples, D. M., Oglesby, T., & Fleming, A. H. (2024). The influence of biopsy site and pregnancy on stable isotope ratios in humpback whale skin. Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry, 38(11). Portico. (doi:10.1002/rcm.9746)
  11. Smith, M. E. K., Ososky, J. J., Hunt, K. E., Cioffi, W. R., Read, A. J., Friedlaender, A. S., McCarthy, M., & Fleming, A. H. (2024). Historical baleen plates indicate that once abundant Antarctic blue and fin whales demonstrated distinct migratory and foraging strategies. Ecology and Evolution, 14(5). Portico. (doi:10.1002/ece3.11376)
Platforms and Instruments

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