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New Research Might Help Repopulate Endangered Baleen Whales

By Rose C
Dec 15, 2016 05:03 AM EST
More Dead Sperm Whales Washing Up On German Shores
BUSUM, GERMANY - FEBRUARY 04: (EDITORS NOTE: Image contains graphic content.) Members of the University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover examine one of a total of eight sperm whales that have washed up dead on the mud flats shore on February 4, 2016 near Dithmarschen, Germany. The corpses of sperm whales have been washing up on the North Sea shores of Germany, Holland and Great Britain in recent weeks and scientists are so far uncertain as to the cause. One cadaver dissected in Germany showed the whale had nearly no food in its stomach, suggesting the whale had gotten lost and starved to death.
(Photo : Alexander Koerner/Getty Images)

New research from Northern Arizona University's Department of Biological Sciences has gained popularity in the biology community for novel ways of studying the reproduction of Baleen whales which could help save the endangered species.

Wildlife endocrinologist and research professor Kathleen Hunt has pioneered new methods of analyzing the hormone levels of baleen whales.

Baleen whales, which include North Atlantic right whales, humpback whales, and bowhead whales, are known for being hunted globally for over 30 decades due to their oil-rich blubber. Despite their large size, scientists are finding it hard to study their breeding habits which are crucial for their preservation and protection. reported that the scientific community is close to clueless since obtaining blood samples and getting even the basic physiological information from these giant mammals are literally impossible due to its habitat, size, and speed.

In a report from Science Daily, Hunt explained that endocrine hormones from the pituitary gland, the thyroid gland, the ovaries, and testes can "reveal important clues about an animal such as its levels of stress and reproductive health."

Accordingly, Hunt believes that the endocrinological information stored in baleen whales -- the hairy, fringed plates that hang down from their upper jaws and filter zooplankton -- is the most crucial part of the study. She stated that baleen stores a wide range of hormonal data that can help chart a female whale's reproductive history.

One of Hunt's work includes a method for gathering and testing individual whale respiratory vapor droplet samples, or "whale blow," with hand-held poles outfitted with polypropylene tubes covered with mesh fabric.

In 2014, Hunt and other researchers published a study in Oxford Journals titled "Baleen hormones: a novel tool for retrospective assessment of stress and reproduction in bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus)" that focuses on baleen hormone analysis as a method to determine individual longitudinal profiles of reproductive cycles and stress responses.

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