The Utah research focused on genes found in mitochondria the power plants of cells and that mutate at a high rate, acting like a clock to reveal when evolutionary events happened. The scientists calibrated the clock by comparing genes from whale lice with related snapping shrimp.
The Utah biologists extracted DNA from whale lice, determined the sequence of the genetic components in a particular mitochondrial gene, and then built family trees to show the relationships among whale lice.
The same three whale louse species Cyamus ovalis, Cyamus gracilis and Cyamus erraticus were thought to infest each of the three different species of right whale. But the new study revealed that like the whales, each whale louse species also split into three species, so North Pacific, North Atlantic and southern ocean species of right whales each are infested by three distinct species of cyamid. That tripled from three to nine the number of cyamid species infesting right whales.
The Right Whale for Extinction?
Right whales which can reach 60 feet and 70 tons were named because "they were the 'right' whale to kill, the first whale to be commercially hunted" 1,000 years ago off Spain; their blubber made their carcasses float for easy recovery, Rowntree says.
Two of the three species of right whales are in danger of extinction. A recent study estimated only 350 remain in the North Atlantic. Rowntree says