Sexual maturation in male bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus) of the Bering-Chukchi-Beaufort Seas stock

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T. M. O'Hara
J. C. George
R. J. Tarpley
K. Burek
R. S. Suydam


Since the mid-1970s, study has focused on reproductive biology of female bowhead whales, while little has been described for males. This study evaluates testicular morphology (mass and length) and histology in relation to body length to determine the onset of male sexual maturity. Mean testis mass and mean testis length were highly correlated. Body length and mean testis mass were significantly correlated and an inflection of increased testicular mass occurred at approximately 12.5-13.0m suggesting the onset of puberty, and also indicated by histologic findings. Biological variability and the fact that few male animals have been examined within this critical length cohort do not allow determination of the onset of maturity with higher precision. Too few mature males have been landed in spring to make statistical comparisons of testes mass with autumn-landed animals within specific size cohorts. Two large (15.7m and 17.7m) males landed in spring had relatively small inactive testes and were diagnosed as pseudohermaphrodites; body length and mean testis length and seminiferous tubule diameter (STD) were not correlated with the other ‘normal’ whales. The smallest male confirmed as mature based on the presence of spermatocytes was 12.7m. The largest testes measured (combined mass 203kg) were from a whale landed in autumn. Mean STD for individual whales ranged from 33.3-170.9m and increased with mean testis weight and whale length. The STD is similar within a testis regardless of region evaluated, with minor variability. Some variation was noted for transverse sections within a cross section for some whales but no pattern was evident.

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