Buck C. Loren

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C. Loren

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  • Article
    Multiple steroid and thyroid hormones detected in baleen from eight whale species
    (Oxford University Press, 2017-11-09) Hunt, Kathleen E. ; Lysiak, Nadine S. J. ; Robbins, Jooke ; Moore, Michael J. ; Seton, Rosemary E. ; Torres, Leigh ; Buck, C. Loren
    Recent studies have demonstrated that some hormones are present in baleen powder from bowhead (Balaena mysticetus) and North Atlantic right (Eubalaena glacialis) whales. To test the potential generalizability of this technique for studies of stress and reproduction in large whales, we sought to determine whether all major classes of steroid and thyroid hormones are detectable in baleen, and whether these hormones are detectable in other mysticetes. Powdered baleen samples were recovered from single specimens of North Atlantic right, bowhead, blue (Balaenoptera [B.]musculus), sei (B. borealis), minke (B. acutorostrata), fin (B. physalus), humpback (Megaptera novaeangliae) and gray (Eschrichtius robustus) whales. Hormones were extracted with a methanol vortex method, after which we tested all species with commercial enzyme immunoassays (EIAs, Arbor Assays) for progesterone, testosterone, 17β-estradiol, cortisol, corticosterone, aldosterone, thyroxine and tri-iodothyronine, representing a wide array of steroid and thyroid hormones of interest for whale physiology research. In total, 64 parallelism tests (8 species × 8 hormones) were evaluated to verify good binding affinity of the assay antibodies to hormones in baleen. We also tested assay accuracy, although available sample volume limited this test to progesterone, testosterone and cortisol. All tested hormones were detectable in baleen powder of all species, and all assays passed parallelism and accuracy tests. Although only single individuals were tested, the consistent detectability of all hormones in all species indicates that baleen hormone analysis is likely applicable to a broad range of mysticetes, and that the EIA kits tested here perform well with baleen extract. Quantification of hormones in baleen may be a suitable technique with which to explore questions that have historically been difficult to address in large whales, including pregnancy and inter-calving interval, age of sexual maturation, timing and duration of seasonal reproductive cycles, adrenal physiology and metabolic rate.
  • Article
    Multi-year patterns in testosterone, cortisol and corticosterone in baleen from adult males of three whale species
    (Oxford University Press, 2018-09-21) Hunt, Kathleen E. ; Lysiak, Nadine S. J. ; Matthews, Cory J. D. ; Lowe, Carley ; Ajo, Alejandro Fernández ; Dillon, Danielle ; Willing, Cornelia ; Heide-Jørgensen, Mads Peter ; Ferguson, Steven H. ; Moore, Michael J. ; Buck, C. Loren
    Male baleen whales have long been suspected to have annual cycles in testosterone, but due to difficulty in collecting endocrine samples, little direct evidence exists to confirm this hypothesis. Potential influences of stress or adrenal stress hormones (cortisol, corticosterone) on male reproduction have also been difficult to study. Baleen has recently been shown to accumulate steroid hormones during growth, such that a single baleen plate contains a continuous, multi-year retrospective record of the whale’s endocrine history. As a preliminary investigation into potential testosterone cyclicity in male whales and influences of stress, we determined patterns in immunoreactive testosterone, two glucocorticoids (cortisol and corticosterone), and stable-isotope (SI) ratios, across the full length of baleen plates from a bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus), a North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis) and a blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus), all adult males. Baleen was subsampled at 2 cm (bowhead, right) or 1 cm (blue) intervals and hormones were extracted from baleen powder with methanol, followed by quantification of all three hormones using enzyme immunoassays validated for baleen extract of these species. Baleen of all three males contained regularly spaced peaks in testosterone content, with number and spacing of testosterone peaks corresponding well to SI data and to species-specific estimates of annual baleen growth rate. Cortisol and corticosterone exhibited some peaks that co-occurred with testosterone peaks, while other glucocorticoid peaks occurred independent of testosterone peaks. The right whale had unusually high glucocorticoids during a period with a known entanglement in fishing gear and a possible disease episode; in the subsequent year, testosterone was unusually low. Further study of baleen testosterone patterns in male whales could help clarify conservation- and management-related questions such as age of sexual maturity, location and season of breeding, and the potential effect of anthropogenic and natural stressors on male testosterone cycles.