Population Characteristics of DNA Fingerprints in Humpback Whales (Megaptera novaeangliae)

Humpback whales exhibit a remarkable social organization that is characterized by seasonal long-distance migration (> 10,000 km/year) between summer feeding grounds in high latitudes and winter calving and breeding grounds in tropical or near-tropical waters. All populations are currently considered endangered as a result of intensive commercial exploitation during the last 200 years. Using three hypervariable minisatellite DNA probes (33.15, 3′HVR, and M13) originally developed for studies of human genetic variation, we examined genetic variation within and among three regional subpopulations of humpback whales from the North Pacific and one from the North Atlantic oceans. Analysis of DNA extracted from skin tissues collected by biopsy darting from free-ranging whales revealed considerable variation in each subpopulation. The extent of this variation argues against a recent history of inbreeding among humpback whales as a result of nineteenth- and twentieth-century hunting. A canonical variate analysis suggested a relationship between scaled genetic distance, based on similarities of DNA fingerprints, and geographic distance (i.e., longitude of regional subpopulation). Significant categorical differences were found between the two oceanic populations using a multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) with a modification of the Mantel nonparametric permutation test. The relationship between DNA fingerprint similarities and geographic distance suggests that nuclear gene flow between regional subpopulations within the North Pacific is restricted by relatively low rates of migratory interchange between breeding grounds or assortative mating on common wintering grounds.


Baker, C.S., D.A. Gilbert, M.T. Weinrich, R. Lambertsen, J. Calambokidis, B. McArdle, G.K. Chambers, and S.J. O’Brien. 1993. Population Characteristics of DNA Fingerprints in Humpback Whales (Megaptera novaeangliae). Journal of Heredity 84(4): 281-290. doi: 10.1093/oxfordjournals.jhered.a111340

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