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  • Writer's pictureAPECS Belgium

The Importance of Museum Collections

Within the field of my research – ecotoxicology of marine animals – I never took into account the possibility of collaborating with museums in order to get samples. I mostly work with whales and seals’ tissues to measure contaminants accumulation and the effect of species ecology on potential exposure. However, the increasing emergency of climate change and the need of understanding its impact on wildlife made me reconsider. My PhD aims at understanding the effect of environmental change (mainly linked to sea ice cover) on Mercury exposure in Arctic seals. To do so, I measure mercury concentrations in fur samples of seals from 1800 to 2019. For that, I had the great opportunity of going to Copenhagen, Denmark to examine the historic collection of the Natural History Museum of Denmark. They had amazing collections of skeletons and fur of whales, dolphins and seals fron the past until today. Integrating these types of samples in our research is today more important than ever. This underlines the importance of historic collections and the creation of tissue bank over the long term. Even if at the moment we cannot see the direct impact of that. With the help of a Master student from my lab, I could collect numerous samples of seal pelts. Of course, dealing with this type of samples needs caution. Until the 1980s seal fur was treated with Hydrochloric Mercury which is quite toxic. And still today these samples are preserved with naphthalene. However, the extra effort to be cautious is surely worth the important information we can get from them!

Picture credit: special thanks to the Natural History Museum of Denmark and Marianna Pinzone for allowing us to post these pictures.

Written by Marianna Pinzone

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