ESR 19:223-243 (2013)  -  DOI:

Prospects for captive breeding of poorly known small cetacean species

Barbara E. Curry1,*, Katherine Ralls2, Robert L. Brownell Jr. 3

1Physiological Ecology and Bioenergetics Laboratory, University of Central Florida, Orlando, Florida 32816, USA
2Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, National Zoological Park, Washington, DC 20008, USA
3Southwest Fisheries Science Center, National Marine Fisheries Service, NOAA, Pacific Grove, California 93950, USA

ABSTRACT: Because of the precarious condition of small cetacean species and subpopulations listed as Endangered or Critically Endangered by the IUCN, use of captive breeding for conservation has been suggested for some of them, and will likely be suggested for others. A successful captive breeding program for a new species cannot be implemented until reliable capture and husbandry techniques have been developed. Techniques for assisted reproduction and reintroduction may also be needed. We review attempts to capture, maintain, and breed poorly known small cetaceans and discuss assisted reproductive technologies (ART) that have been used to enhance captive breeding efforts for other small cetaceans. We conclude that the techniques required for successful captive breeding of most Endangered or Critically Endangered small cetacean species have not been sufficiently developed. Development of these techniques should begin before a species or population is Critically Endangered. In particular, ARTs tend to be species specific, necessitating considerable time, money, and research to develop for each species of concern. Critically Endangered populations cannot afford to lose the individuals needed for technique development. The fairly large captive population sizes necessary (to avoid loss of genetic diversity, inbreeding, and genetic adaptation to captivity), limited space available in aquariums, and high costs of captive breeding and reintroduction programs make it unlikely that captive breeding will play a major role in the conservation of most small cetaceans. The substantive conservation measures needed to prevent extinction of Critically Endangered small cetaceans is reduction or elimination of their primary threats, which are usually by-catch and habitat loss.

KEY WORDS: Breeding program · Ex situ conservation · Live capture · Acclimation · Assisted reproductive technologies · ART · Artificial insemination · Dolphin · Conservation threats

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Cite this article as: Curry BE, Ralls K, Brownell RL Jr (2013) Prospects for captive breeding of poorly known small cetacean species. Endang Species Res 19:223-243.

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