By Anthony Harris
A recently published genetic study conducted by scientists from Oregon State University and the British Antarctic Survey concludes that not all humpback whales are from the same evolutionary ilk. Research indicated three humpback whales from various ocean basins in the North Pacific, North Atlantic and Southern Hemisphere are not only genetically different from each other, but will follow their own evolutionary trajectories and must now be classified as separate subspecies.
The study takes over where previous research, led by OSU’s Marine Mammal Institute associate director Scott Baker left off, which identified as many as five distinct humpback populations in the North Pacific Ocean alone. Populations, despite seasonal migrations are more isolated than scientists had believed. Genetic samples of mitochondrial DNA inherited from the mother and nuclear DNA from each parent gathered by small biopsy darts were analyzed and provided researchers insight into both the female exchange and male interchange in the world’s ocean populations over the last million years.
Humpbacks are listed as an endangered species in the U.S., though have since been down-listed on a global scale. However, two populations in the Sea of Arabia and South Pacific were recently relisted endangered, and one newly identified population in the North Pacific could soon follow suit, according to scientists.
These newest findings suggest ocean populations be identified as subspecies, which could alter the way scientists study and protect humpback whale populations in the future.