Meeting Abstract

S2.3  Sunday, Jan. 4 09:00  Studying the uncatchable animal: the methods, meaning and madness of conservation physiology research on large whales HUNT, KE*; ROLLAND, RM; KRAUS, SD; New England Aquarium; New England Aquarium; New England Aquarium huntk@neaq.org

Advances in noninvasive sampling and remote sampling have recently made it possible to address landscape-scale conservation physiology questions in large whales, a taxon that has historically been very difficult to study. We discuss the North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis, "NARW"), a critically endangered species that has been under intensive study for nearly four decades, as a case study of applying modern conservation physiology methods to large whales. By combining long-term sighting histories of known NARW individuals with physiological data from newer techniques (e.g., body condition estimated from photographs, endocrine status derived from fecal samples), we have been able to correlate physiological trends in the NARW population with specific anthropogenic impacts. Our approach relies on: sufficiently detailed knowledge of individual history to allow subdivision of physiological data by demographic group (e.g. lactating females, pregnant females, mature males); consistent population monitoring over decades; consistent efforts at endocrine sample collection over many years; continued development and testing of novel physiological tools; and a unique organizational approach that encourages data-sharing across multiple institutions. Logistical limitations include periodic disappearance of large segments of the population to unknown locations; expense of aircraft-based and ship-based population surveys; low sample collection rate; and impossibility of performing certain classic validations (e.g. ACTH challenge) in baleen whales. Ongoing applications to other species, including multi-population comparative approaches, will be discussed.