Blubber Endocrine Profiles Provide Insights into Reproductive Biology in Blue Whales from the Eastern North Pacific Ocean

The goal of the present study was to complement existing data of testosterone and progesterone in blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus) blubber from the eastern North Pacific Ocean to evaluate effects of seasonality and location on these hormones and to better assess reproductive status of individuals. Physiological parameters regarding reproduction are fundamental for describing population dynamics, and hormones can be a valid tool to estimate those for wildlife populations. In this study, blubber tissue was validated for testosterone and proges- terone assays. Hormone concentrations were measured in 69 (35 males and 34 females) blubber samples from live (n = 66) and stranded (n = 3) animals collected between 2002 and 2016 from a known winter reproductive ground in the Gulf of California (GoC) and summer feeding areas along the United States West Coast (USWC), specifically off the states of California and Oregon. Results were combined with sighting histories as a tool to determine reproductive status of individual whales. Testosterone concentrations in adult male blue whales were significantly higher (p < 0.05) in blubber biopsies sampled off the USWC between the months of June and November compared to those sampled in the GoC between February and April. Elevated testosterone concentrations likely indicate physiological preparation for reproductive activity while the animals were present off the USWC. Progesterone concentrations were significantly elevated in pregnant females, confirming progesterone as an indicator of pregnancy in blue whales. Probabilities of being pregnant were estimated for adult females with unknown sighting histories based on progesterone concentrations. Testosterone in females was detected and measured only in pregnant whales suggesting its biosynthesis or metabolism is altered during gestation. These results provide updated and new information on the reproductive cycle of blue whales in the eastern North Pacific, posing new milestones to better estimate the timing of the mating season for this endangered population.


Melica, V., S. Atkinson, D. Gendron, J. Calambokidis, and F. Mueter. 2021. Blubber Endocrine Profiles Provide Insights into Reproductive Biology in Blue Whales from the Eastern North Pacific Ocean. General and Comparative Endocrinology 310: 113830. doi: 10.1016/j.ygcen.2021.113830