American Australian Association

Alumni Spotlight

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Elizabeth Burgess

2017 AAA-Sir Keith Murdoch Scholar (Graduate Education Fund)

American Australian Association (AAA) 2017 Australia to US Education Fund Scholar, Elizabeth Burgess, has complete her research project at the New England Aquarium in Boston, on North Atlantic Right Whales. Elizabeth’s published paper in Nature Scientific Reports is available to read as an attachment to this blog or can be found here.

Quantifying hormones in exhaled breath for physiological assessment of large whales at sea

Elizabeth A. Burgess, Kathleen E. Hunt, Scott D. Kraus & Rosalind M. Rolland

Abstract: Exhaled breath analysis is a non-invasive assessment tool that has shown promise in human diagnostics, and could greatly benefit research, management, and conservation of large whales. However, hormone assessment of whale respiratory vapor (blow) has been challenged by variable water content and unknown total volume of collected samples. To advance this technique, we investigated urea (a compound present in narrow range in circulation) as a normalizing factor to correct for blow sample concentration. Normalized progesterone, testosterone, and cortisol concentrations of 100 blow samples from 46 photo-identified North Atlantic right whales (Eubalaena glacialis) were more biologically relevant compared to absolute estimates, varying by sex, age class, or individual. Progesterone was elevated in adult females compared with other cohorts and highest in one independently confirmed pregnant female. For both sexes, testosterone was two-fold higher in reproductively mature whales but studied adult females showed the widest variation. Cortisol was present in relatively low concentrations in blow and demonstrated variation between individual whales, suggesting potential for studies of individual differences in adrenal activity. Incorporation of methodologies that normalize sample concentration are essential for blow hormone analysis of free-swimming whales, and measurement of urea could be used to optimize non-invasive physiological assessment of whales.

Read more here.

Other published articles on Elizabeth’s research can be found at the links below:

National Geographic:


Cape Cod Times: