Forsøksdyr: Diet, toxicology and genetics of cetacean predators in Norwegian coastal waters

Godkjenningsdato 08.09.2020

Godkjenningsperiode 11.01.2021-11.01.2023

The current application seeks approval for biopsy sampling of free-ranging killer whales (Orcinus orca), pilot whales (Globicephala melas) and sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalous) as part of a project that investigates their diet, toxicology and genetics in Norwegian coastal waters. For each species, tissue samples (skin and blubber) will be analysed for dietary markers, contaminant loads and genetics. In addition, multi-sensor camera tags will be attached to killer whales using non-invasive suction cups for (continued) in depth study of their energetics and consumptive effects on prey populations.

Remote biopsy sampling, used as a routine sampling method in marine mammal research, does not require physical capture nor handling of the animals and has been shown to only cause short-term disturbance, with rapid wound healing and no long-term adverse effects. The deployment of multi-sensor camera tags on killer whales will also be done remotely, using a long-handled pole, with no capture necessary. Suction-cups will be used as non-invasive mean of attachment with no transdermal perforation, thus causing no pain or risk for infection.

The results, of value for management and conservation of killer whales, pilot whales and sperm whales in Norway and in the North Atlantic, will be published in international academic journals and communicated at scientific conferences. The data generated as part of the project will also be archived and available for potential collaborators to conduct additional investigations and thus, to maximise the use of the tissue samples collected.

For this project, we aim at biopsy sampling 80 (or less) killer whales, 80 (or less) pilot whales and 80 (or less) sperm whales over two years of year-round fieldwork in Norwegian coastal waters. Multi-sensor camera tags will be attached to a maximum of 20 individual killer whales over the same study period and region.

The project addresses fundamental research questions for which alternative solutions to sampling live animals may be none. As potential replacement method, dead cetaceans stranded along the Norwegian coast have been systematically sampled since 2017. However, because stranded whales may have suffered from illness and/or compromised condition before death, results from tissue analysis may not be representative of healthy individuals. Therefore, sampling of live (presumably) healthy specimens is warranted when aiming for robust inferences at the species and/or population levels.

To achieve both reduction of the number of sampled animals and refinement of the methods, the following rules of best practice will constitute major priorities: (1) only adult and sub-adult individuals, in apparent healthy condition, will be sampled (no calves); (2) following sampling protocols in place will ensure minimal induced disturbance; (3) photographic-identification of sampled individuals, using natural scars and pigmentation patterns, will prevent double sampling and cumulative stress; (4) investigators’ previous experience in sampling and tagging cetaceans in Norway will contribute to effective sampling while ensuring animal welfare.