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Keywords:

  • sperm whale;
  • Physeter;
  • skin;
  • tissue sample;
  • biopsy;
  • sloughed skin

Abstract

Samples of sperm whale skin, useful for modern molecular analyses of DNA, can be obtained from living animals either by collecting skin sloughed naturally by the whales, or by using biopsy darts fired from crossbows or compound bows. Sloughed skin was found frequently in warm waters, and particular samples could often be linked to photographs which enabled individuals to be identified. However, sloughed skin seemed less available at higher latitudes. Two types of darts were found to collect skin but collected samples were very small (<4 mm2) and insufficient for repeated DNA fingerprinting analyses. Sperm whales always reacted to darting by “startling” and showing changes of behavior over the next few minutes, but we found no indications of longer-term effects. In warm water studies, collection of sloughed skin seems to be generally effective, but for samples of sperm whale tissue at high latitudes modifications could probably be made to either of the darts in order to obtain larger-sized samples.