[MARMAM] New Publication: Validation of a blubber-based endocrine pregnancy test for humpback whales

Logan Pallin logan.pallin at gmail.com
Wed Jun 20 13:19:37 PDT 2018

 Dear colleagues,

My co-authors and I are pleased to announce our recent publication in the
Journal of Conservation Physiology

*Pallin L*, Robbins J, Kellar N, Bérubé M, Friedlaender A (2018) Validation
of a blubber-based endocrine pregnancy test for humpback whales. *Conserv
Physiol* 6(1): coy031; https://doi.org/10.1093/conphys/coy031

The article is available online at:  https://doi.org/10.1093/conphys/coy031

Baleen whales have few identifiable external indicators of pregnancy state,
making it challenging to study essential aspects of their biology and
population dynamics. Pregnancy status in other marine mammals has been
determined by measuring progesterone concentrations from a variety of
sample matrices, but logistical constraints have limited such studies in
free-swimming baleen whales. We use an extensive blubber sample archive and
associated calving history data to retrospectively identify samples that
correspond to pregnant females and develop a progesterone-based pregnancy
test for humpback whales. The lowest pregnant blubber progesterone
concentration was 54.97 ng g−1, and the mean for the known-pregnant group
was 198.74 ± 180.65 ng g−1. Conversely, females known to be below the
minimum age of sexual maturity (juvenile females) had an overall low mean
progesterone concentration (0.59 ± 0.25 ng g−1), well below the
known-pregnant range. Of the mature females that did not return with a calf
(*n* = 11), three fell within the known-pregnant range (320.79 ± 209.34 ng g
−1), while the levels for the remaining eight were two orders of magnitude
below the lowest known-pregnant level (1.63 ± 1.15 ng g−1). The proportion
of females that did not return with a calf but had values similar to
known-pregnant females are consistent with rates of calf mortality, but
other potential explanations were considered. Our findings support a
validated blubber endocrine assignment of pregnancy corroborated with field
life history information, a first for any baleen whale species. The
progesterone values we measured were similar to those found in different
pregnancy states of other cetaceans and support using blubber biopsy
samples for assigning pregnancy in humpback whales. This method can be
applied to existing archives or new samples to better study life history
and population demography broadly across species and populations.


Logan Pallin

*Logan J. Pallin *| PhD Student
NSF Graduate Research Fellow
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
University of California, Santa Cruz
Bio-Telemetry & Behavioral Ecology Lab <https://btbel.pbsci.ucsc.edu/>
lpallin at ucsc.edu | (218) 591-0615
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