First Case of a Monitored Pregnancy of a Harbour Porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) Under Human Care

Abstract: Most of the data collected on the reproduction of harbour porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) comes from by-caught or stranded animals and is therefore opportunistic in nature. Harbour porpoises kept in a human-controlled environment offer a unique opportunity to gather data on the same individual with a known history over a long period of time. At Fjord&Baelt in Kerteminde, Denmark, Freja, a 10-y-old female harbour porpoise, became pregnant in September 2005 and gave birth during the night between 24 and 25 July 2006. Routinely sampled parameters, such as food intake, weight, blubber-thickness, body-girth measurements, and respiration rates, did not follow the seasonal patterns observed the preceding years at the facility. These variables either increased or remained stable during the pregnancy. As the first sign of the approaching parturition, a dramatic drop in food intake occurred 8 d prior to her giving birth followed by a decrease in body temperature of 1º C at about 62 h before giving birth. Freja’s intermammary distance also increased as the date of the birth approached, although this parameter cannot be used for immediate diagnosis of impending parturition. The newborn calf was found dead a few hours after the birth and appeared to be the result of a full-term gestation. This study describes some observable changes in behavioural, physical, and physiological parameters occurring in a primiparous harbour porpoise during gestation, which could be used in animal husbandry for this species.

Key Words: pregnancy, husbandry, birth, parturition, harbour porpoise, Phocoena phocoena

Document Type: Research article

DOI: 10.1578/AM.34.1.2008.9

Page Numbers: 9-20

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