Because of the value of the information obtained, the relative low risk to animals biopsied, and the ability to collect several samples, numerous researchers worldwide are currently utilizing biopsy techniques to obtain important new information on critical conservation questions. Furthermore, as new assays become available, archived and future biopsy samples will be able to provide additional information on the health of individuals
and the status of populations. For example, recent studies suggest that biopsies can provide information on stress levels through skin protein analyses (Southern et al. 2002), pregnancy status through blubber progesterone analysis (Mansour et al. 2002, Kellar et al. 2006), male reproductive status through blubber testosterone VX-765 manufacturer Inhibitor Library analysis (Kellar et al. 2009), and individual age through the analysis of blubber fatty acids (Herman et al. 2008, 2009). Although the advantages of obtaining samples using biopsy methods, particularly via remote methods, are many, these endeavors require adequate caution and training to ensure that animals are not harmed. For example, the NOAA NMFS Northeast Fisheries Science Center has assembled a training manual for personnel engaged in cetacean biopsy procedures (see Wenzel et al. 2010). Based on our review, we find that certain measures tend to increase the success of collecting tissue samples
while minimizing disturbance to cetaceans during biopsy sampling. First, the dart design and delivery system used must be selected to account for the biology, physiology, and behavior of the target species. Usually the length of the dart tip and strength of the delivery device are based on the body size as well as the skin and blubber
thickness of the target species in order to acquire a suitable sample (either skin or skin and blubber) while preventing injury caused by penetration beyond the blubber layer. In general, lower powered MCE delivery systems are used for small cetaceans while higher powered delivery systems are used for large cetaceans. The strength of the delivery device should also be selected according to the expected approach distance; for example, crossbows with lower draw strengths are usually used at close ranges. Second, researchers utilizing biopsy sampling techniques must have experience with these methods. Those that practice firing biopsy darts at targets prior to initiating sampling of live animals are more likely to be successful in the field. Furthermore, success often increases with each subsequent year of biopsy sampling. It is also likely that cetaceans biopsied by experienced researchers (i.e, presumably better at operating boats near cetaceans, hitting the target animal, and sampling from the ideal body location) will have fewer physiological impacts and potentially exhibit fewer strong behavioral responses.