SWFSC Stranding Collections
What we collect and how tissues are used
The Cetacean Life History and Health Program houses two types of collections that are used principally for marine mammal ecological, health, and reproductive studies: (1) dry or wet preserved specimens and (2) frozen tissues. The dry or wet preserved collection began in 1966 when we began collecting data on dolphins killed in the eastern tropical Pacific (ETP) yellowfin tuna purse-seine fishery. This collection includes over 33.000 individuals representing 34 marine mammal species and contains teeth, gonads, stomach contents, adrenals, and histology. The frozen collection started in 1990 with the gillnet fishery observer program and expansion of the stranding network to focus on animal health and development of molecular techniques. It includes over 1500 individuals representing 26 species of cetaceans and pinnipeds, including all of the small delphinid and pinniped species found off California. It contains primarily skin, blubber, muscle, kidney and liver.
To date, the collections have been used (1) for growth and reproductive studies of spinner dolphins, spotted dolphins, and common dolphins in the ETP, (2) to compare blubber and muscle characteristics among cetaceans, which extended our understanding of their physiology and diving behavior, (3) to compare contaminant loading geographically for short-beaked common dolphin, (4) to characterize fatty acids to further our understanding of feeding ecology, (5) to develop molecular techniques for use in life-history studies, (6) to catalogue known and unknown halogenated organic compounds in marine mammals and (7) to determine heavy metal concentrations in southern California cetaceans. These collections are a valuable source of samples for life history, ecological, and health studies of marine mammals off the coast of California and the eastern tropical Pacific, and for development of molecularly-based tools to expand the use of biopsy-collected specimens from cetaceans sampled in the wild for life-history studies.