Multi-year longitudinal profiles of cortisol and corticosterone recovered from baleen of North Atlantic right whales (Eubalaena glacialis). Academic Article uri icon


  • Research into stress physiology of mysticete whales has been hampered by difficulty in obtaining repeated physiological samples from individuals over time. We investigated whether multi-year longitudinal records of glucocorticoids can be reconstructed from serial sampling along full-length baleen plates (representing ?10years of baleen growth), using baleen recovered from two female North Atlantic right whales (Eubalaena glacialis) of known reproductive history. Cortisol and corticosterone were quantified with immunoassay of subsamples taken every 4cm (representing ?60d time intervals) along a full-length baleen plate from each female. In both whales, corticosterone was significantly elevated during known pregnancies (inferred from calf sightings and necropsy data) as compared to intercalving intervals; cortisol was significantly elevated during pregnancies in one female but not the other. Within intercalving intervals, corticosterone was significantly elevated during the first year (lactation year) and/or the second year (post-lactation year) as compared to later years of the intercalving interval, while cortisol showed more variable patterns. Cortisol occasionally showed brief high elevations ("spikes") not paralleled by corticosterone, suggesting that the two glucocorticoids might be differentially responsive to certain stressors. Generally, immunoreactive corticosterone was present in higher concentration in baleen than immunoreactive cortisol; corticosterone:cortisol ratio was usually >4 and was highly variable in both individuals. Further investigation of baleen cortisol and corticosterone profiles could prove fruitful for elucidating long-term, multi-year patterns in stress physiology of large whales, determined retrospectively from stranded or archived specimens.

publication date

  • December 1, 2017