Blow collection as a non-invasive method for measuring cortisol in the beluga (Delphinapterus leucas)

PLoS One. 2014 Dec 2;9(12):e114062. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0114062. eCollection 2014.


Non-invasive sampling techniques are increasingly being used to monitor glucocorticoids, such as cortisol, as indicators of stressor load and fitness in zoo and wildlife conservation, research and medicine. For cetaceans, exhaled breath condensate (blow) provides a unique sampling matrix for such purposes. The purpose of this work was to develop an appropriate collection methodology and validate the use of a commercially available EIA for measuring cortisol in blow samples collected from belugas (Delphinapterus leucas). Nitex membrane stretched over a petri dish provided the optimal method for collecting blow. A commercially available cortisol EIA for measuring human cortisol (detection limit 35 pg ml-1) was adapted and validated for beluga cortisol using tests of parallelism, accuracy and recovery. Blow samples were collected from aquarium belugas during monthly health checks and during out of water examination, as well as from wild belugas. Two aquarium belugas showed increased blow cortisol between baseline samples and 30 minutes out of water (Baseline, 0.21 and 0.04 µg dl-1; 30 minutes, 0.95 and 0.14 µg dl-1). Six wild belugas also showed increases in blow cortisol between pre and post 1.5 hour examination (Pre 0.03, 0.23, 0.13, 0.19, 0.13, 0.04 µg dl-1, Post 0.60, 0.31, 0.36, 0.24, 0.14, 0.16 µg dl-1). Though this methodology needs further investigation, this study suggests that blow sampling is a good candidate for non-invasive monitoring of cortisol in belugas. It can be collected from both wild and aquarium animals efficiently for the purposes of health monitoring and research, and may ultimately be useful in obtaining data on wild populations, including endangered species, which are difficult to handle directly.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Beluga Whale / blood
  • Beluga Whale / metabolism*
  • Exhalation*
  • Female
  • Hydrocortisone / blood
  • Hydrocortisone / metabolism*
  • Immunoenzyme Techniques / methods
  • Immunoenzyme Techniques / veterinary*
  • Male
  • Stress, Physiological*


  • Hydrocortisone

Grant support

Funding for this work was provided by the Office of Naval Research award #N00014-11-1-0437 awarded to TR. Additional funding for LT was provided by the Interdisciplinary Research Initiative in Coastal Health (IRICH) and NOAA Oceans and Human Health Initiative (OHHI). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript.