Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Humpback whale subspecies revealed by genetic study

21.05.2014

A new genetic study has revealed that populations of humpback whales in the oceans of the North Pacific, North Atlantic and Southern Hemisphere are much more distinct from each other than previously thought, and should be recognised as separate subspecies. Understanding how connected these populations are has important implications for the recovery of these charismatic animals that were once devastated by hunting.

The team, led by scientists from the British Antarctic Survey and Oregon State University, analysed the largest and most comprehensive genetic dataset so far compiled for this iconic species. The findings, published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B this week, show that humpback whales of the North Pacific, North Atlantic and Southern Hemisphere are on independent evolutionary trajectories.

Known for their amazing acrobatics, humpback whales annually undertake the longest migration of any mammal between their winter breeding grounds and summer feeding grounds. Although they travel vast distances, it appears their populations do not cross paths.

Lead author, Dr Jennifer Jackson of the British Antarctic Survey explains:

"Despite seasonal migrations of more than 16,000 km return, humpback whale populations are actually more isolated from one another than we thought. Their populations appear separated by warm equatorial waters that they rarely cross.

"The colour of the bodies and undersides of the tail (the 'flukes') of humpback whales in the northern oceans tend to be much darker than those in the Southern Hemisphere. Until this study we didn't realise that these kinds of subtle differences are actually a sign of long-term isolation between humpback populations in the three global ocean basins.

"Using genetic samples, collected from free-swimming whales with a small biopsy dart, we've been able to look at two types of humpback DNA; the 'mitochondrial' DNA which is inherited from the mother, and the nuclear DNA which is inherited from both parents. The mitochondrial DNA allows us to build up a picture of how female humpbacks have moved across the globe over the last million years. The nuclear DNA, which evolves more slowly, provides us with a general pattern of species movements as a whole.

"We found that although female whales have crossed from one hemisphere to another at certain times in the last few thousand years, they generally stay in their ocean of birth. This isolation means they have been evolving semi-independently for a long time, so the humpbacks in the three global ocean basins should be classified as separate subspecies. This has implications for how we think about their conservation and recovery on a regional scale.

"Further genetic sequencing and analysis should also help us to understand more about the pattern of humpback migrations in the past. Big changes in the ocean can leave signatures in the genetic code of marine species. For example, the last glacial maximum caused many to shift southwards until the ice retreated or to find ice-free areas in the north. Humpbacks are excellent oceanographers; they go where the food is and can travel long distances to get it, so their patterns of past migration can tell us a lot about the ocean thousands of years ago."

###

This research brought together researchers from the British Antarctic Survey, Oregon State University, Florida State University, James Cook University, University of Auckland, Fundacion CEQUA, Wildlife Conservation Society, the American Museum of Natural History and the South Pacific Whale Research Consortium, with funding from the New Zealand Royal Society Marsden Fund and the Lenfest Ocean Program.

Issued by the British Antarctic Survey Press Office.

Contact:

Rachel Law,
tel: +44 (0)1223 221437;
mobile: +44 (0)7740 822 229;
email: raclaw@bas.ac.uk

Photos of whales are available from the BAS Press Office.

Jennifer Jackson,
British Antarctic Survey,
email: Jennifer.jackson@bas.ac.uk

Notes for editors

The paper:

Global diversity and oceanic divergence of humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) by Jennifer A. Jackson, Debbie J. Steel, P. Beerli, Bradley C. Congdon,
Carlos Olavarría, Matthew S. Leslie, Cristina Pomilla, Howard Rosenbaum and C. Scott Baker is published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B on Wednesday 21 May 2014.

View the paper at http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/lookup/doi/10.1098/rspb.2013.3222

Funding

Primary funding was provided by a Marsden grant no. 01-UOA-070 from the New Zealand Royal Society to C.S.B., and a sub-award from the Lenfest Ocean Foundation to C.S.B. and H.C.R. (award no. 2004-001492-023 to S. R. Palumbi). Q2 P.B. was partially funded by US National Science Foundation grant no. DEB-1145999.

Fieldwork

DNA sequences were obtained from humpback whale skin samples, which were collected by field studies conducted over a number of years in multiple locations across the South Pacific, North Pacific, North Atlantic, South Atlantic and Southern Indian Oceans. Samples were collected using a small dart. Some samples of 'sloughed skin' were also collected as this is sometimes found in the water in proximity to whales.

Humpback whales

The humpback is a large migratory baleen whale with long pectoral flippers. Adults weigh over 40 tons and are 13-15 metres in length. They are found in all oceans worldwide except the Mediterranean. They breed and calve in sub-tropical waters in winter and seasonally migrate to high latitude polar and sub-polar waters to feed in summer. They have a very diverse behavioural repertoire, which includes breaching (leaping out of the water), lob-tailing (smacking the tail against the water's surface) and flippering (slapping their pectoral fins against the water's surface). Males are also known to produce lengthy acoustic 'song-like' vocalisations.

British Antarctic Survey (BAS), an institute of the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), delivers and enables world-leading interdisciplinary research in the Polar Regions. Its skilled science and support staff based in Cambridge, Antarctica and the Arctic, work together to deliver research that uses the Polar Regions to advance our understanding of Earth as a sustainable planet. Through its extensive logistic capability and know-how BAS facilitates access for the British and international science community to the UK polar research operation. Numerous national and international collaborations, combined with an excellent infrastructure help sustain a world leading position for the UK in Antarctic affairs. For more information visit http://www.antarctica.ac.uk

Rachel Law | Eurek Alert!

Further reports about: Antarctic Atlantic BAS DNA Hemisphere humpback mitochondrial populations subspecies whales

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Gene switch may repair DNA and prevent cancer
12.02.2016 | Institute for Integrated Cell-Material Sciences at Kyoto University

nachricht New method opens crystal clear views of biomolecules
11.02.2016 | Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron DESY

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Production of an AIDS vaccine in algae

Today, plants and microorganisms are heavily used for the production of medicinal products. The production of biopharmaceuticals in plants, also referred to as “Molecular Pharming”, represents a continuously growing field of plant biotechnology. Preferred host organisms include yeast and crop plants, such as maize and potato – plants with high demands. With the help of a special algal strain, the research team of Prof. Ralph Bock at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology in Potsdam strives to develop a more efficient and resource-saving system for the production of medicines and vaccines. They tested its practicality by synthesizing a component of a potential AIDS vaccine.

The use of plants and microorganisms to produce pharmaceuticals is nothing new. In 1982, bacteria were genetically modified to produce human insulin, a drug...

Im Focus: The most accurate optical single-ion clock worldwide

Atomic clock experts from the Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB) are the first research group in the world to have built an optical single-ion clock which attains an accuracy which had only been predicted theoretically so far. Their optical ytterbium clock achieved a relative systematic measurement uncertainty of 3 E-18. The results have been published in the current issue of the scientific journal "Physical Review Letters".

Atomic clock experts from the Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB) are the first research group in the world to have built an optical single-ion clock...

Im Focus: Goodbye ground control: autonomous nanosatellites

The University of Würzburg has two new space projects in the pipeline which are concerned with the observation of planets and autonomous fault correction aboard satellites. The German Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy funds the projects with around 1.6 million euros.

Detecting tornadoes that sweep across Mars. Discovering meteors that fall to Earth. Investigating strange lightning that flashes from Earth's atmosphere into...

Im Focus: Flow phenomena on solid surfaces: Physicists highlight key role played by boundary layer velocity

Physicists from Saarland University and the ESPCI in Paris have shown how liquids on solid surfaces can be made to slide over the surface a bit like a bobsleigh on ice. The key is to apply a coating at the boundary between the liquid and the surface that induces the liquid to slip. This results in an increase in the average flow velocity of the liquid and its throughput. This was demonstrated by studying the behaviour of droplets on surfaces with different coatings as they evolved into the equilibrium state. The results could prove useful in optimizing industrial processes, such as the extrusion of plastics.

The study has been published in the respected academic journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America).

Im Focus: New study: How stable is the West Antarctic Ice Sheet?

Exceeding critical temperature limits in the Southern Ocean may cause the collapse of ice sheets and a sharp rise in sea levels

A future warming of the Southern Ocean caused by rising greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere may severely disrupt the stability of the West...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Symposium on Climate Change Adaptation in Africa 2016

12.02.2016 | Event News

Travel grants available: Meet the world’s most proficient mathematicians and computer scientists

09.02.2016 | Event News

AKL’16: Experience Laser Technology Live in Europe´s Largest Laser Application Center!

02.02.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

LIGO confirms RIT's breakthrough prediction of gravitational waves

12.02.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

Gene switch may repair DNA and prevent cancer

12.02.2016 | Life Sciences

Using 'Pacemakers' in spinal cord injuries

12.02.2016 | Medical Engineering

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>