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 An evolutionary heads-up – The brain size advantage
22.05.2015 | Veterinärmedizinische Universität Wien

nachricht Endocrine disrupting chemicals in baby teethers
21.05.2015 | Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Basel Physicists Develop Efficient Method of Signal Transmission from Nanocomponents

Physicists have developed an innovative method that could enable the efficient use of nanocomponents in electronic circuits. To achieve this, they have developed a layout in which a nanocomponent is connected to two electrical conductors, which uncouple the electrical signal in a highly efficient manner. The scientists at the Department of Physics and the Swiss Nanoscience Institute at the University of Basel have published their results in the scientific journal “Nature Communications” together with their colleagues from ETH Zurich.

Electronic components are becoming smaller and smaller. Components measuring just a few nanometers – the size of around ten atoms – are already being produced...

Im Focus: IoT-based Advanced Automobile Parking Navigation System

Development and implementation of an advanced automobile parking navigation platform for parking services

To fulfill the requirements of the industry, PolyU researchers developed the Advanced Automobile Parking Navigation Platform, which includes smart devices,...

Im Focus: First electrical car ferry in the world in operation in Norway now

  • Siemens delivers electric propulsion system and charging stations with lithium-ion batteries charged from hydro power
  • Ferry only uses 150 kilowatt hours (kWh) per route and reduces cost of fuel by 60 percent
  • Milestone on the road to operating emission-free ferries

The world's first electrical car and passenger ferry powered by batteries has entered service in Norway. The ferry only uses 150 kWh per route, which...

Im Focus: Into the ice – RV Polarstern opens the arctic season by setting course for Spitsbergen

On Tuesday, 19 May 2015 the research icebreaker Polarstern will leave its home port in Bremerhaven, setting a course for the Arctic. Led by Dr Ilka Peeken from the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) a team of 53 researchers from 11 countries will investigate the effects of climate change in the Arctic, from the surface ice floes down to the seafloor.

RV Polarstern will enter the sea-ice zone north of Spitsbergen. Covering two shallow regions on their way to deeper waters, the scientists on board will focus...

Im Focus: Gel filled with nanosponges cleans up MRSA infections

Nanoengineers at the University of California, San Diego developed a gel filled with toxin-absorbing nanosponges that could lead to an effective treatment for skin and wound infections caused by MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), an antibiotic-resistant bacteria. This "nanosponge-hydrogel" minimized the growth of skin lesions on mice infected with MRSA - without the use of antibiotics. The researchers recently published their findings online in Advanced Materials.

To make the nanosponge-hydrogel, the team mixed nanosponges, which are nanoparticles that absorb dangerous toxins produced by MRSA, E. coli and other...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

International symposium: trends in spatial analysis and modelling for a more sustainable land use

20.05.2015 | Event News

15th conference of the International Association of Colloid and Interface Scientists

18.05.2015 | Event News

EHFG 2015: Securing health in Europe. Balancing priorities, sharing responsibilities

12.05.2015 | Event News

 
Latest News

Mesoporous Particles for the Development of Drug Delivery System Safe to Human Bodies

22.05.2015 | Materials Sciences

Computing at the Speed of Light

22.05.2015 | Information Technology

Development of Gold Nanoparticles That Control Osteogenic Differentiation of Stem Cells

22.05.2015 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>