Massive Genetic Study of Humpback Whales to Inform Conservation Assessments; Study Confirms Need to Protect Unique Humpback Whales in Arabian Sea

Scientists have published one of the largest genetic studies ever conducted on the humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) for the purpose of clarifying management decisions in the Southern Hemisphere and supporting calls to protect unique and threatened populations, according to WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society), the American Museum of Natural History, Columbia University, and other organizations. Using data generated from more than 3,000 skin samples from individual whales ranging from the South Atlantic to the Indian Oceans, the research team has uncovered previously unknown degrees of relatedness between different whale populations. The study will also help inform ongoing conservation reassessments of humpback whale populations, and reaffirms the highly distinct nature of a small, non-migratory population of humpback whales living in the Arabian Sea in need on continued protection. The study titled "Multiple Processes Drive Genetic Structure of Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) Populations Across Spatial Scales" was published online on January 8, 2016 in Molecular Ecology. Field research on marine mammals is one of the most challenging of biological studies, primarily because scientists are often unable to follow ocean-going species such as whales across their full range; the humpback whale, in particular, undertakes some of the longest migratory movements of any mammal. While techniques such as remote sensing devices placed on individual whales, photo-recognition of individuals, and other methods can help answer some questions of where whale species travel, molecular technologies can reveal secrets at a broader level, sometimes representative of entire populations.
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