Long Term Ovarian Ultrasonography Study in Killer Whales (Orcinus orca): Potential Secondary Effects of Altrenogest (Regumate®)
IAAAM 2019
Geraldine Lacave1,2; Nuhacet Fernández2; Francesco Grande2; Rafael Sánchez2; Miguel Días2; Claudia Vollhardt3; Julián Delgado2; Juan Hernández2; Jorge Real2; Miguel Hernández2; Idaira Martín2; Ayoze Hernández2; Kumara Barbuzano2; Dani Marín2; Renée van Reeuwijk2; Jorge Soares2
1Marine Mammal Veterinary Services, Belgium; 2Loro Parque, Tenerife, Spain; 3Karlsruhe Zoo, Karlsruhe, Germany


Daily, alternated-day, or bi-weekly ovarian ultrasounds (General Electric - Logiq e BT9, BT12 & Logiq V2 with a 2,5–5 MHz convex probe) have been performed for the last 5 years in three female killer whales (Orcinus orca) kept at the Loro Parque facility in Tenerife, Spain and have provided invaluable complementary information on the ovarian activity in this species.1,2 To render the study possible, twelve killer whale trainers were taught how to recognize killer whale’s ovaries by ultrasound and record the data. Two females were captive born, respectively in 2002 and 2004, and one was a stranded whale estimated to be born between 2006–2007. Since 2013, over 4,500 sessions with over 32,000 ovarian ultrasound videos (both in AVI and DICOM format) have been obtained. The females had originally been receiving altrenogest (Regumate®; 0.044 mg/kg) for a long period of time (>2 years) for contraception and were then switched to 6-month treatment periods separated by withdrawal for 2 cycles. The review of the data has permitted us to identify antral follicles of much smaller sizes than previously described and the confirmation of their presence in ovaries both with and without altrenogest.1 Once growing follicles were identified they were tracked daily throughout their entire cycle and up to three times per day once they reached 2 cm in diameter, allowing for a detailed visual follow-up. A corpus hemorrhagicum could be identified in some instances. Corpora albicantia scars were consistently visualized long-term post-ovulation, a structure not yet reported in marine mammals’ ultrasounds. Follicular developments and one ovulation were seen while the animals were under altrenogest treatment. Unlike other animals a delay in follicular cycles post-removal has been described in cetaceans.1,3,4 In this study, the following irregularities and/or pathologies have been identified post-altrenogest removal: shorter cycles, longer cycles, delayed cycles, prolonged anoestrus (one animal), development of follicular cyst, retained corpus luteum, and spontaneous galactorrhea. Future research will correlate endocrine data from daily urine samples taken during the time lapse of this study.


The author wishes to thank the veterinary department and the Orca ocean trainers’ team of Loro Parque, Tenerife, Spain. This study has been made possible thanks to a grant from the Loro Parque Foundation.

Literature Cited

1.  Robeck TR, Steinman KJ, Gearhart S, Reidarson TR, McBain JF, Monfort SL. 2004. Reproductive physiology and development of artificial insemination technology in killer whales (Orcinus orca). Biol Repro. 71:650–660.

2.  O’Brien JK, Robeck TR. 2010. The value of ex situ cetacean populations in understanding reproductive physiology and developing assisted reproductive technology for ex situ and in situ species. Int J Comp Psychol. 23:227–248.

3.  Robeck TR, Jensen E, Brook F, Rourke N, Rayner C, Kinoshita R. 2000. Preliminary investigations into ovulation manipulation techniques in delphinids. Joint AAZV & IAAAM Conference Proceedings, New Orleans, LA; Pp. 222–225.

4.  Robeck TR, Gili C, Doescher BM, Sweeney J, Laender P, Van Elk CE, O’Brien JK. 2012. Altrenogest and progesterone therapy during pregnancy in bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncates) with progesterone insufficiency. J Zoo Wildl Med. 43:296–308.


Speaker Information
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Geraldine Lacave
Marine Mammal Veterinary Services
Brugge, Belgium

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