Naturally Stressed? Glucocorticoid Profiles in Blubber of Blue and Gray Whales in Response to Life History Parameters

The goal of the present study was to carry out a thorough methodological validation and describe baseline profiles for glucocorticoid hormones (cortisol and corticosterone) in blubber from blue (n = 77) and gray (n = 103) whales from the eastern North Pacific Ocean. For each species, we modelled cortisol and corticosterone concentrations in response to life history parameters (age, sex, reproductive status) and season or geographic location. In blue whales, cortisol concentrations did not vary significantly by age class, sex, or reproductive status, whereas corticosterone was significantly lower in immature than in adult females (p < .001). In gray whales, cortisol concentrations were significantly higher in lactating whales (p < .05), while corticosterone was significantly different between females and males (p = .001) and elevated in calves (p = .003). In gray whales, corticosterone concentrations were significantly lower in males sampled later in the year (August to November) compared to both sexes sampled between March and August (p = .05), but no seasonal trend occurred in blue whales. Our results indicate that glucocorticoid actions vary between species and sex in large whales. Analysis of multiple hormones improves our understanding of the physiology of maintaining metabolic homeostasis or coping with chronic stressors.


Melica, V., S. Atkinson, J. Calambokidis, D. Gendron, A. Lang, and J. Scordino. 2022. Naturally Stressed? Glucocorticoid Profiles in Blubber of Blue and Gray Whales in Resposne to Life History Parameters. Marine Mammal Science. doi: 10.1111/mms.12954