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Keywords:

  • biopsy sampling;
  • DNA;
  • genetics;
  • killer whale;
  • Orcinus orca;
  • toxicology

Abstract

Lightweight untethered pneumatic darts were used to biopsy killer whales, Orcinus orca, for genetic and toxicological analysis. Samples of epidermal, dermal, and hypodermal tissue weighing approximately 0.5 g were obtained by 65% of the 91 darts fired during the study. Sufficient DNA for multiple analyses was extracted from the biopsies, which were also used for fatty acid and toxic contaminant analyses. Reactions such as momentary shakes or accelerations were observed after 81% of the dart hits and 53% of the misses. Aversion to the research vessel was assessed by reapproaching target whales after the sampling attempts. In 6% of the hits and 8% of the misses aversion to the research boat increased immediately following the attempt. No similar increases in aversion were seen when killer whales were reapproached one day to one year after being hit. The darts were also tested successfully on humpback whales, Megaptera novaeangliae. In view of the simplicity of the system, its effectiveness in acquiring multipurpose samples, and the apparently short-term disturbance it caused, it is recommended for future cetacean biopsy studies.