Serum estradiol and progesterone profiles during estrus, pseudopregnancy, and active gestation in Steller sea lions

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Year of Publication:
Renae Sattler, Lori Polasek
Zoo Biology
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While the proximate driver behind the decline of the Western stock of Steller sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus, >80% since 1970s) is likely multifactorial, the population reduction may have been powered by a decrease in fecundity. A harvest of Steller sea lions in the 1970s and 80s revealed a 30% reduction in the proportion of pregnant females from early (October–November) to late gestation (April–May). Identification and quantification of these reproductive failures are difficult when we lack species-specific data on endocrinology associated with discrete stages of the reproductive cycle (i.e., estrus, implantation, and gestation). We tracked changes in serum estradiol and progesterone in three adult female Steller sea lions from 2011 to 2015. In all years and most females, a discrete increase in estradiol was observed during the breeding season (June–August), indicative of estrus. Estradiol concentrations from October to May in a pregnant female compared to her corresponding values when non-pregnant did not consistently differ through gestation. An elevation in progesterone was observed in all females and all years beginning approximately in June and lasting through November. This likely results from progesterone production by the corpus luteum in both pregnant and pseudopregnant females. Serum progesterone shows promise as a diagnostic tool to identify pregnancy during months 3–5 (December–February) of the 8-month active gestation following embryonic implantation. This study provides ranges of key hormones during estrus, embryonic diapause/pseudopregnancy, and gestation in pregnant and non-pregnant females for studying reproduction in Steller sea lions.


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