15 Year Study of DNA in 1,527 Southern Humpback Whales Completed

NEW YORK, Oct. 14 (UPI) — U.S. scientists say an international genetic study of 1,527 Southern Hemisphere humpback whales has been completed.

The goal of the 15-year project was to gather genetic data to explore the population dynamics and relatedness of Southern Hemisphere humpbacks and inform management decision in the sometimes politically charged realm of whale conservation, officials said.

Scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society, the American Museum of Natural History and an international coalition of organizations conducted the research in the Southern Atlantic and Indian oceans.

“Humpback whales are perhaps the most studied species of great whale in the Northern Hemisphere, but many of the interactions among Southern Hemisphere populations are still poorly understood,” said Howard Rosenbaum, director of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Ocean Giants Program and lead author of the study. “This research illustrates the vast potential of genetic analyses to uncover the mysteries of how humpbacks travel and form populations in the southern ocean basins.”

So little is known about southern ocean basin humpbacks that researchers initially used old whaling records for insights into whale population boundaries. The DNA was obtained from skin samples gathered with biopsy darts fired from crossbows, officials said. The darts harmlessly bounce off the marine mammals as they surface to breathe.

The results of the massive analysis that included scientists from the U.S., Oman, Brazil, South Africa, Gabon and France appear in the online journal PLoS One.

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

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