Endangered right whale population genetically distinct, scientists report
Genetic research by the Bronx Zoo-based Wildlife Conservation Society, American Museum of Natural History, and other organizations has revealed that right whales living in the North Pacific Ocean are actually a unique species, according to a study published in the recent issue of the journal Molecular Ecology. Long considered to be another population of northern right whale, a species numbering fewer than 300 individuals in the North Atlantic, right whales of the North Pacific are genetically distinct, scientists say.
"There is very little recent information about the North Pacific right whale, other than sporadic sightings, and the fact that it has been hard-hit by illegal hunting," said WCS researcher Dr. Howard Rosenbaum, the study's lead author. "What is known is that this animal numbers perhaps a few hundred individuals throughout their entire range in the North Pacific and should therefore be a top conservation priority."
In 1997, Rosenbaum and colleagues at WCS and the American Museum of Natural History developed a technique to isolate DNA from the baleen of historical specimens of whales - some of which were over a century old. This procedure allowed researchers to conduct the first genetic analysis of North Pacific right whales. Rosenbaum's team looked at samples from a total of 380 whales, including skin-tissue biopsy samples from recent animals, to support these important findings. The conclusion that the North Pacific right whale is a valid species brings the total number of species to three - adding to the northern right whale in the North Atlantic Ocean and the southern right whale.
Both of those species are currently listed as endangered according to the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora (CITES). Rosenbaum believes that these recent findings will help guide changes to the f
Contact: Stephen Sautner
Wildlife Conservation Society