The CCGL is committed to a greater understanding of the molecular ecology and systematics of whales, dolphins and porpoises around the world. Our work on large whales is pursuing three inter-related themes:
To improve our understating of the impact of hunting on the abundance of whales and the ecological role of whales before human exploitation, we are working to improve population dynamic models by including genetic information on long-term effective population sizes before exploitation and minimum population size during exploitation.
To assess the current status of great whale populations, the CCGL is involved in three large-scale, collaborative studies: the Structure of Populations, Levels of Abundance and Status of Humpbacks (SPLASH) project in the North Pacific; the South Pacific Whale Research Consortium's assessment of the population structure and migratory interchange of humpback whales in the South Pacific; and a worldwide study of genetic diversity and population structure of sperm whales through collaboration with the Ocean Alliance.
To conserve the future of whales and dolphins, we have continued surveys of ‘whale-meat' markets in Japan and the Republic of (South) Korea. The work is part of a long-term study of trade in protected whales and dolphins using a portable PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) laboratory to identify the species origins of the products.
The CCGL contributes to policy on the conservation of cetaceans through participation in the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and the Cetacean Specialist Group of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
A new paper in Marine Mammal Science, co-authored by MMI’s Scott Baker and Debbie Steel, describes how genetic identification of dried whale meat from a remote Pacific island helped to rediscover a new species of the rare Mesoplodon beaked whale. With the addition of Mesoplodon hotaula, there are now 22 species of the beaked whales, yet this family remains one of the most poorly described of all vertebrates.
(See also: http://dna-barcoding.blogspot.com/2014/02/an-old-new-whale-species.html)
"It's exciting evidence for a previously unrecognised species within the ancient lineage of Amazon river dolphins," says Scott Baker of Oregon State University in Newport. "Yet it's already rare, and its habitat is now fragmented by dams."
Second, if trade in whale meat is legalized, it could be difficult to identify black market meat. Monitoring and enforcement would be a challenge. "These problems are not easily solved," adds Scott Baker of Oregon State University, Corvallis. His molecular sleuthing of whalemeat markets has shows a large trade in illegal or unreported whale products. A return to commercial whaling, he suspects, would provide even greater incentives for illegal hunting.