Traces Of Hormone Allow Scientists To Detect Stress In Whales

2017-12-06T15:10:36+00:00 December 6, 2017|

(Click to enlarge). A North Atlantic right whale mother and calf (Credit: Brian Skerry)

A new study of more than 100 North Atlantic right whales over 15 years shows the analysis of a hormone product in the animals’ waste can provide information on their stress levels and health.

(From Boston Globe/ By Ben Thompson) — “These levels show stress from extreme physical trauma,” lead study author Rosalind Rolland, a senior scientist at the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life at the New England Aquarium, said in a statement.

“It’s an animal welfare issue,” she said. “For the first time, we can get hormone levels on not just dead but living whales.”

The study, published this week in Endangered Species Research, covers the “pioneering technique” developed by Rolland used to examine feces taken from 125 right whales from 1999 to 2014. That group included a mix of 113 healthy whales, six that were “chronically entangled” in fishing gear, one that stranded for several days, and five that were quickly killed by vessel strikes, the aquarium said.

Almost immediately after a stressful incident such as a stranding or entanglement, the hormone glucocorticoid is released into a whale’s bloodstream. The hormones then show up in whales’ feces one to two days after the incident, the aquarium said.

Researchers analyzing the waste found that the metabolized products of glucocorticoids appeared in the feces of whales that went through prolonged strandings and entanglements, but not the whales that died quickly from a vessel strike. The difference in hormone levels showed…

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