Assessment of a non-invasive approach to pregnancy diagnosis in grey whales through drone-based photogrammetry and faecal hormone analysis

A. Fernandez Ajó, E. Pirotta, K. C. Bierlich, L. Hildebrand, C. N. Bird, K. E. Hunt, C. L. Buck, L. New, D. Dillon, L. G. Torres

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations

Abstract

Knowledge of baleen whales' reproductive physiology is limited and requires long-term individual-based studies and innovative tools. We used 6 years of individual-level data on the Pacific Coast Feeding Group grey whales to evaluate the utility of faecal progesterone immunoassays and drone-based photogrammetry for pregnancy diagnosis. We explored the variability in faecal progesterone metabolites and body morphology relative to observed reproductive status and estimated the pregnancy probability for mature females of unknown reproductive status using normal mixture models. Individual females had higher faecal progesterone concentrations when pregnant than when presumed non-pregnant. Yet, at the population level, high overlap and variability in progesterone metabolite concentrations occurred between pregnant and non-pregnant groups, limiting this metric for accurate pregnancy diagnosis in grey whales. Alternatively, body width at 50% of the total body length (W50) correctly discriminated pregnant from non-pregnant females at individual and population levels, with high accuracy. Application of the model using W50 metric to mature females of unknown pregnancy status identified eight additional pregnancies with high confidence. Our findings highlight the utility of drone-based photogrammetry to non-invasively diagnose pregnancy in this group of grey whales, and the potential for improved data on reproductive rates for population management of baleen whales generally.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number230452
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Volume10
Issue number7
DOIs
StatePublished - Jul 19 2023

Keywords

  • drone-based photogrammetry
  • enzyme immunoassay
  • grey whale
  • pregnancy
  • progesterone

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General

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