Review of cetacean biopsy techniques: Factors contributing to successful sample collection and physiological and behavioral impacts



Biopsy techniques have been developed to collect skin and blubber samples through non-lethal methods. One sample can provide data on genetics, prey preferences, foraging ecology, contaminant loads, and physiological processes. The limited data available suggest that biopsy wounds heal quickly and that there are usually no discernable adverse health effects. Published accounts on factors contributing to the success of collecting biopsy samples and the behavioral impacts to cetaceans following biopsy sampling were standardized to permit statistical analysis. Several factors contribute to the success of acquiring samples; however, sampling rates do not differ significantly between delivery devices. Behavioral responses to biopsy sampling vary by species and other factors. The most predominant response for odontocetes is low, while low and moderate responses are equally prevalent for mysticetes. The use of retrieval lines may increase the occurrence of moderate and strong responses by mysticetes. These findings suggest that biopsy sampling is relatively benign, causing only minor and short-lived responses. However, most researchers do not report sufficient data to assess short- and long-term physiological and behavioral impacts. Finally, limited data suggest that biopsy sampling does not impact cetacean habitat use or distribution patterns. Yet these impacts are rarely investigated, so additional data are needed.