North Pacific fin whale taxonomy and stock structure

August 7, 2013

Principal Investigator: Eric Archer, Marine Mammal Genetics Group

At present, there are three named subspecies of fin whale, B. p. physalus (Linnaeus 1758) in the North Atlantic, B. p. quoyi (Fischer 1829) in the southern oceans, and a recently described pygmy form, B. p. patachonica (Burmeister 1865), of which little is known. On a global scale, populations in the North Atlantic, North Pacific, and Southern Ocean have disjunct distributions and probably mix rarely (if at all). Previous acoustic, morphological, and genetic studies suggest significant differentiation in the northern hemisphere, both between the North Atlantic and within the North Pacific.

Using Next Generation Sequencing, we have sequenced the full mitochondrial genome for 154 fin whales from the North Pacific, North Atlantic - including the Mediterranean Sea - and Southern Hemisphere.  Analysis of this data shows that fin whales in the North Pacific are diagnosably distinct from whales in other ocean basins, indicating that they should not be considered as the same subspecies as whales in the North Atlantic.  We are currently examining a suite of SNP (nuclear Single Nucleotide Polymorphism) loci for these samples to confirm their taxonomic status.

We are also examining population structure within the North Pacific using samples from the Bering Sea, California-Washington-Oregon, the Southern California Bight, and the Gulf of California.  In this project, we are working closely with the Marine Mammal Acoustics Group to standardize and develop formal methods for integrating acoustic data into genetic analyses of population structure.

Learn more:

Archer, F.I, P.A. Morin, B.L. Hancock-Hanser, K.M. Robertson, M.S. Leslie, M. Bérubé, S. Panigada, and B.L. Taylor.  2013.  Mitogenomic phylogenetics of fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus spp.): genetic evidence for revision of subspecies.  PLoS ONE 8(5): e63396. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0063396.

Last modified: 7/24/2015