Researchers have developed a new method for hormone testing in whales, and have pointed out the flaws in currently used procedures. The latest discovery may lead to better ways of screening the giant marine mammals for pregnancy.
According to the latest research described in the journal Scientific Reports, the only way scientists could count pregnant whales was by sight and best guesses based on visual characteristics. For the last several years, they said, researchers have relied on hormone tests of blubber collected via darts, which were often inconclusive.
The New Testing Method
- It allows researchers to gather a simultaneous measurement of 11 hormones in each sample of whale blubber using a chemical analysis technique called liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry.
- It identifies hormones based on their molecular size and mass, which the scientists said ensures higher accuracy and selectivity compared to the current method.
- By casting a wider net and looking for more hormones, scientists got a better set of biomarkers.
- Correct timing of the tests could also improve their accuracy rates.
Significance of the Study
Whales are sensitive to changes in their environment and can serve as early warning signals that something is amiss, including details about the health of the food web, the impact of ocean noise, and the levels of contaminant exposures. In recent years, the study noted that humpback whale numbers have increased dramatically in many places, although they are still considered endangered. The large size of these mammals, makes it difficult to count or study pregnant females using traditional identification methods. According to the researchers, humpback whales can serve as an indicator species for other, more endangered large whales, and by developing analytical measurement techniques for these species that are doing well, scientists can confidently apply them to other, more protected species.