Optimizing hormone extraction protocols for whale baleen: Tackling questions of solvent:sample ratio and variation

Alejandro Fernández Ajó, Kathleen E. Hunt, Danielle Dillon, Marcela Uhart, Mariano Sironi, Victoria Rowntree, C. Loren Buck

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Obtaining endocrine data from alternative sample types such as baleen and other keratinized tissues has proven a valuable tool to investigate reproductive and stress physiology via steroid hormone quantification, and metabolic stress via thyroid hormone quantification in whales and other vertebrates. These alternative sample types provide an integrated measure of plasma levels over the period that the structure was growing, thus capturing months or even years of an individual's endocrine history. Additionally, their robust and stable keratin matrix allows such samples to be stored for years to decades, enabling the analysis and comparison of endocrine patterns from past and modern populations. However, the extraction and analysis of hormones from baleen and other keratinized tissues remains novel and requires both biological and analytical validations to ensure the method fulfills the requirements for its intended use. We utilized baleen recovered at necropsy from southern right whales (Eubalaena australis) that died at Península Valdés, Argentina, using a commercially available progesterone enzyme immunoassay (EIA) to address two methodological questions: 1) what is the minimum sample mass required to reliably quantify hormone content of baleen samples analyzed with commercially available EIAs, and 2) what is the optimal ratio of solvent volume to sample mass, i.e., the ratio that yields the maximum amount of hormone with high accuracy and low variability between replicates. We concluded that masses of at least 20 mg should be used whenever possible, and extraction is best performed using an 80:1 ratio of solvent to sample (volume of solvent to sample mass; μl:mg). These results can help researchers to make informed methodological decisions when using a destructive extraction method with rare or unique specimens.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number113828
JournalGeneral and Comparative Endocrinology
StatePublished - Jan 1 2022


  • Baleen hormone
  • Conservation physiology
  • Extraction efficiency
  • Progesterone
  • Small sample effect
  • Steroids
  • Validation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Endocrinology


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