Population structure of melon-headed whales in the Pacific

August 7, 2013

Principal Investigator: Karen Martien, Marine Mammal Genetics Program

Melon-headed whaleThere is currently a single recognized stock of melon-headed whales (MHWs; Peponocephala electra) in U.S. territorial waters - the Hawaiian stock, which encompasses the entire Hawaiian EEZ. However, recent photo-identification work suggests the presence of at least two populations around the main Hawaiian Islands that may warrant protection as separate stocks (Aschettino 2010). The Main Hawaiian Islands population is a large population (N=5794, CV=0.20) that ranges through the main Hawaiian Island chain, while the Hawai‘i Resident population is restricted to a small, shallow-water region off the northwest coast of the island of Hawai‘i and is estimated to contain only 447 (CV=0.12) individuals (Aschettino 2010). MHWs are also known to inhabit the waters around the Palmyra and Johnston Atolls. Even less is known about these animals than the Hawaiian animals, and they are not currently included in the U.S. Pacific Marine Mammal Stock Assessment Reports.

We are using mitochondrial sequence and microsatellite genotype data to investigate the population structure of melon-headed whales in the north Pacific.  Preliminary analyses suggest significant differentiation between Hawai‘i, Palmyra, and Johnston, as well as between the Main Hawaiian Islands population and the Hawai‘i Resident population. 

Learn more:

Aschettino, J. 2010. Population size and structure of melon-headed whales (Peponocephala electra) around the main Hawaiian Islands: evidence of multiple populations based on photographic data. M.Sc. thesis, Hawaiæi Pacific University. 125pp.

Brownell, R.L., K. Ralls, S. Baumann-Pickering, and M.M. Poole. 2009. Behavior of melon-headed whales, Peponocephala electra, near oceanic islands. Marine Mammal Science 25:639-658.

Last modified: 10/4/2016