Concentrations of circulating progesterone and oestradiol were measured in 96 free-ranging, female Australian sea lions Neophoca cinerea from Kangaroo Island, South Australia. There was a marked increase in the concentrations of both hormones (progesterone from approximately 12 ng ml−1 to approximately 24 ng ml−1; oestradiol from approximately 1.5 pg ml−1 to approximately 14 pg ml−1) about 3.5 months after the probable date of mating, reaching peak values in the 5 months after parturition. Progesterone concentrations remained at peak concentrations for about 2 months, decreasing at approximately 8 months to concentrations approximating those of the first 3 months after parturition. Oestradiol concentrations decreased, after reaching a peak, to 3–4 pg ml−1 at about 8 months after parturition. The timing of the increase in the concentrations of circulating progesterone and oestradiol provides evidence that the blastocyst reactivates and implants between 3.5 and 5 months of pregnancy in Australian sea lions, indicating an embryonic diapause of similar duration to that of other pinnipeds. This would suggest a prolonged postimplantation period of up to 14 months (to fit with the gestation period of 18 months reported for this species) the longest postimplantation period recorded for pregnancy in any pinniped.
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