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Steroid hormone profiles and body conditions of migrating male humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae)



Greta Dalle Luche, Ashley Boggs, John Kucklick, Darryl Hawker, Jillian Wisse, Susan Bengston Nash


Simultaneous analysis of multiple steroid hormones from remotely obtained blubber biopsies has the potential to concurrently provide information regarding stress and reproductive status from free-swimming cetaceans, while also investigating correlations between hormone concentrations and other health biomarkers. In this study we measured blubber concentration profiles of eight reproductive and adrenal steroid hormones (17α-hydroxyprogesterone, testosterone, androstenedione, progesterone, cortisol, 11-deoxy-corticosterone, oestrone, and oestradiol) together with body condition, as determined by the inverse Adipocyte Index, of 101 male humpback whales. Whales were sampled randomly at two time points, while migrating to and from their northeast Australian breeding grounds, allowing for intra- and inter-seasonal profile analysis. Testosterone, progesterone and cortisol together with androstenedione 17α-hydroxyprogesterone, and oestrone concentrations (the latter quantified for the first time in live biopsied male humpback whales) decreased between the northward and southward migrations. Decreasing testosterone levels during the height of humpback whale conceptions suggests asynchronicity between blubber testosterone levels and the expected peak of male fertility. Statistically significant relationships between levels of certain steroid analytes were observed and appeared to change between the early and late breeding seasons. During the northward migration, testosterone, progesterone, androstenedione, oestrone and 17α-hydroxyprogesterone levels were positively correlated. Cortisol concentrations correlated positively with those of testosterone during the northward migration, but negatively during the southward migration. Androstenedione and testosterone were positively correlated with adiposity during the late breeding season. These hormone-hormone and hormone-adiposity correlations may be reflective of the activation of certain steroid hormone synthesis pathways, or alternatively, of concomitant physiological stimuli. As steroid hormones work in concert, information on multiple steroid hormones is needed to interpret endocrinological status and understand the relationships between these compounds and ancillary health markers. This study provides steroid hormone profiles of wild male humpback whales, as well as the first insight into seasonal male endocrinology as a function of adiposity.
General and Comparative Endocrinology


breeding season, stress biomarker, reproduction, sexual maturity, testosterone, cortisol


Dalle Luche, G. , Boggs, A. , Kucklick, J. , Hawker, D. , Wisse, J. and Bengston Nash, S. (2021), Steroid hormone profiles and body conditions of migrating male humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae), General and Comparative Endocrinology, [online], (Accessed April 14, 2024)
Created August 22, 2021, Updated September 8, 2022