Evaluation of fecal hormones for noninvasive research on reproduction and stress in humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae)

Kathleen E. Hunt, J. Robbins, C. Loren Buck, Martine Bérubé, Rosalind M. Rolland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Fecal hormone analysis shows high potential for noninvasive assessment of population-level patterns in stress and reproduction of marine mammals. However, the marine environment presents unique challenges for fecal sample collection. Data are still lacking on collection methodology and assay validations for most species, particularly for those mysticete whales that have variable diets. In this study we tested collection techniques for fecal samples of free-swimming humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae), and validated immunoassays for five steroid and thyroid hormones. Resulting data were used for preliminary physiological validations, i.e., comparisons to independently confirmed sex and reproductive state. Pregnant females had significantly higher fecal progestins and glucocorticoids than did other demographic categories of whales. Two possible cases of previously undetected pregnancies were noted. Males had significantly higher fecal testosterone metabolites than nonpregnant females. Fecal glucocorticoids were significantly elevated in pregnant females and mature males compared to nonpregnant females. Calf fecal samples had elevated concentrations of all fecal hormones. Fecal thyroid hormones showed a significant seasonal decline from spring to summer. Though sample sizes were small, and sampling was necessarily opportunistic, these patterns indicate that noninvasive fecal hormone analysis may facilitate studies of reproduction, stress and potentially energetics in humpback whales.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)24-34
Number of pages11
JournalGeneral and Comparative Endocrinology
StatePublished - Sep 1 2019


  • Cetacea
  • Endocrinology
  • Fecal hormones
  • Hormones
  • Noninvasive
  • Reproduction
  • Stress
  • Thyroid

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Endocrinology


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