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Development of Novel Noninvasive Methods of Stress Assessment in Baleen Whales

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Technical Report

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New England Aquarium Boston United States

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Our long-term goal is to broaden the existing panel of endocrine stress assessment techniques for large whales. Few methods exist for assessment of physiological stress levels of free-swimming cetaceans Amaral 2010, ONR 2010, Hunt et al. 2013. Prior to this grant, we demonstrated that respiratory vapor blow sampling is practical and feasible for large whales, and that blow samples contain detectable steroid and thyroid hormones Hunt et al. 2014. We had also developed a suite of fecal hormone assays for reproductive and stress-related hormones in North Atlantic right whales NARW Hunt et al. 2006, 2015 Rolland et al. 2005, 2012. However, blow sampling needs further testing before it can enter widespread use, and some additional stress-related hormones have not yet been tested in either feces or blow, particularly the adrenal hormone aldosterone. Our aim in this project is to further develop both techniques - respiratory hormone analysis and fecal hormone analysis - for use in stress assessment of large whales.

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