The Value of Ex Situ Cetacean Populations in Understanding Reproductive Physiology and Developing Assisted Reproductive Technology for Ex Situ and In Situ Species Management and Conservation Efforts
Wild cetacean populations have uncertain futures in the face of shifting climate conditions and the continued encroachment of their unique ecosystem by human activities. Core conservation efforts focus on habitat protection and understanding the natural ecology of a species, but such efforts arein complete without a comprehensive understanding of a species’ physiology. Ex situ populations of cetaceans provide a unique opportunity to collect this physiological data, and thereby serve as an important component of any conservation effort. The sustainability of captive cetacean populations is in turn dependent on a thorough understanding of reproductive physiology, and such research has facilitated the development of assisted reproductive technology (ART). ART, specifically gamete preservation for genome resource banking, artificial insemination and sperm sexing, has been used to significantly enhance the genetic, reproductive and social management of ex situ cetaceans. For endangered cetaceans and other marine mammals, ART will permit the establishment of permanent repositories of valuable genetic material which could be used to maximize their reproductive potential and maintain the species’ genetic diversity; an approach that, when combined with in situ conservation efforts, may prevent their extinction.