Remote blubber sampling paired with liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry for steroidal endocrinology in free-ranging bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus)
Ashley S. Boggs-Russell, Jared M. Ragland, Eric Zolman, Tracey B. Schock, Jeanine S. Morey, Thomas M. Galligan, Greta Dalle Luche, Brian C. Balmer, Randall S. Wells, John R. Kucklick, Lori Schwacke
Liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry allows for the measurement of steroid hormone suites in the blubber of marine mammals. By combining this technology with minimally invasive techniques such as remote biopsy, endocrine profiles can be assessed, allowing for studies of hormonal profile variation over time. In this study, we explored associations among different steroidogenic pathways and seasonal differences in blubber hormone profiles of free-ranging common bottlenose dolphins along the coast of South Carolina, USA. Male dolphins experience a peak in testosterone, androstenedione, progesterone, and 17- hydroxyprogesterone in the spring, likely related to an upregulation of the androgen steroidogenic pathway during mating season. We also observed increased cortisol concentrations during summer compared to winter. Among females, there was an increase in androstenedione with elevated progesterone concentrations indicative of pregnancy, highlighting another potential endocrine marker for pregnancy in free-ranging dolphins. This work emphasizes the importance of selecting the appropriate season for studies on endocrine status to effectively uncover physiological variation or disruption in free-ranging cetaceans.