Bowhead Whales Have Lost Genetic Diversity

October 19, 2012

WCS and several partner organizations undertook the first range-wide genetic study of bowhead whales, their findings revealing good and bad news. Although these ocean giants expertly navigate seemingly impassable portions of the ocean, the species has lost genetic diversity.

They sometimes extend to lengths of 65 feet and weigh as much as 100 tons, making bowhead whales true ocean giants. Although they’ve been protected from commercial whaling since 1946, the genetics of these behemoth mammals have never been properly documented.

Now, a new study published by WCS, the American Museum of Natural History, and the City University of New York shines light on the history of these marine mammals. Using recently collected DNA samples and ancient specimens, scientists unearthed differences between ancient and modern genetics: diversity has diminished over time, possibly because of whaling’s adverse effects. 

Another finding bodes well for the future of these whales. Contrary to prior assumptions, it seems that Pacific and Atlantic populations are able to encounter one another. Even the Arctic’s frozen inlets and straights can’t keep star-crossed lovers apart.

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