Killer whale breath hints at reason for declining population

Hands up if there’s anyone out there who has examined the breath of a killer whale .. maybe to settle a bet after a night of heavy drinking?

I didn’t think so, especially since most of my readers and listeners reside on the prairies. On Canada’s west coast, killer whales are declining in number, and whale breath has become a fascinating area of study.

Stephen Raverty is a zoological researcher at U.B.C. He says post mortem examinations of recently deceased whales have found that a number of them showed signs of pneumonia, and they’re anxious to find out how they might have caught such an infection.

How do you do a breathalyser on a living killer whale? Very carefully of course silly. They use a petri dish attached to the end of an 18 foot pole, and they hold it above the animal’s blowhole. Maybe there are possibilities here for the port of Churchill in northern Manitoba.

Professor Raverty says they have found a variety of bacteria and fungi in the breath samples, and some of the bacteria are also common to diseases that affect animals and humans on land. How they got into the whales is part of the ongoing mystery.

The team at U.B.C. has published a report on their whale breath research in the journal Nature.

Who knows where this all may lead, but I sincerely hope they have approached the people who make Listerine and Scope to help pay bills.

I’m Roger Currie

Roger Currie


Veteran radio journalist, now working primarily as a writer, commentator and freelance voice. My regular commentary "Currie's Corner" is heard on CJNU ( Nostalgia Radio ) at 93.7 FM. Text and audio can be found at I also do a daily newscast on CJNU, at about 7.15 & 8.15, every weekday morning. It's also posted on the CNC homepage.

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