A population of humpback whales that resides in the Arabian Sea may have been isolated for ~70,000 years, according to a study published December 3, 2014 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Cristina Pomilla, Ana Rita Amaral, Howard Rosenbaum, and Tim Collins of the Wildlife Conservation Society, the American Museum of Natural History, and their colleagues.
The small, non-migratory population of Arabian Sea humpback whales is currently classified as "Endangered" on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Scientists have limited data on the difficult-to-study population, including its relationship to other humpback whale populations. The authors of this study analyzed both mitochondrial and nuclear DNA extracted from nearly 70 Arabian Sea humpback whale tissue samples and compared them to datasets from populations in the Southern Hemisphere and North Pacific.
The results show that the Arabian Sea humpback whale population is highly distinct from Southern Hemisphere and North Pacific populations. Gene flow and divergence estimates suggest the population originated from the Southern Indian Ocean, but indicate that it has been isolated for approximately 70,000 years, which is unusual for a species that is typically highly migratory. Genetic diversity values are significantly lower than those obtained for Southern Hemisphere populations, and the authors' findings provide strong indication that this is the world's most isolated humpback whale population. The authors conclude that the low genetic diversity and population abundance estimates, combined with anthropogenic threats, may raise concern for the populations' survival and suggests that a reassessment of their conservation status and management strategies is merited.
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Citation: Pomilla C, Amaral AR, Collins T, Minton G, Findlay K, et al. (2014) The World's Most Isolated and Distinct Whale Population? Humpback Whales of the Arabian Sea. PLoS ONE 9(12): e114162. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0114162
Funding: Funding and other in-kind support for the work was provided by: The Environment Society of Oman, Shell Oman Marketing, Petroleum Development Oman, The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Ford Middle East, Veritas Geophysical, Salalah Port Services, Five Oceans LLC, Tawoos LLC, The Peter Scott Trust for Education Research in Conservation, Marina Bandar al Rowdha, DHL, Mustafa Sultan Communications, The ABA School Muscat, The British School Muscat, The Sultan School Muscat, The Embassy of the United States in Muscat, Emirates Airlines, Oman Air, Cathay Pacific, KPMG, Muscat Pharmacy, OHI Marine, Truck Oman, W.J. Towell and Co., Han Padron Associates, Mark Rental Cars, WS Atkins and the Wildlife Conservation Society. The funders of this study had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.