Haematology and clinical blood chemistry in harbour porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) from the inner Danish waters
Harbour porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) in the Baltic Sea are under increasing pressure from anthropogenic activities, which affect the overall health of populations. Individuals' haematologic and biochemistry parameters are known to be linked to a population's health status and are therefore useful tools for cross-population comparisons and to assess health patterns of a population through time. However, it is often difficult to acquire data representing the full range of values and assess the influence of intrinsic and extrinsic factors. Here, we present the range of haematology and blood chemistry values obtained from 46 wild (n = 54 blood samples) individuals incidentally caught in pound-nets and five porpoises in long-term human care (n = 449 blood samples) from an outdoor semi-open facility in Denmark. Although it was not possible to formally test the differences between samples from free-ranging and captive individuals, lymphocyte values were lower for free-ranging animals whereas eosinophils and white blood cell values were higher in captive individuals. Aspartate aminotransferase and alanin aminotransferase values were also lower for captive individuals compared to free-ranging ones. Age group did not influence any of the blood parameters tested for free-ranging individuals. Sodium values were higher for males compared to females. Values were higher and lower in the fall for platelets and lactic acid dehydrogenase, respectively, compared to the other seasons. Based on samples yielded by individuals in long-term human care, haemoglobin, mean cell volume, white blood cells, absolute lymphocyte count, and alkaline phosphatase values were all influenced by health status based on clinical examination. These are therefore candidate parameters to assess health status of wild porpoises. Our results underline that it is essential to obtain ranges of reference values for all haematologic and biochemistry markers in order to assess health status of free-ranging individuals. Individuals in human care provide the opportunity to observe biological and ecological determinates (e.g. age, season) of long-term biomarker response patterns and to assess the suite of biomarkers best suited to predict individual health status.