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).
Although sperm whales have not been driven to the brink of extinction as have some other whales, a new study has found a remarkable lack of diversity in the maternally inherited mitochondrial DNA within the species. In fact, the mitochondrial DNA from more than a thousand sperm whales examined during the past 15 years came from a single “Eve” sperm whale tens of thousands of years ago, the researchers say. Results of the study are being published this week in the journal Molecular Ecology. While the exact origins of this sperm whale “Eve” remain uncertain, the study shows the importance of her female descendants in shaping global population structure, according to Alana Alexander, a University of Kansas Biodiversity Institute researcher who conducted the study while a doctoral student at Oregon State University
To Scott Baker of the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State University, and a National Geographic grantee, the whales’ large size and low but prominent dorsal fins identified them as most likely Sei whales. Little is known or understood about these large filter feeders, so learning of their activity in these waters, Baker is eager to begin a project to track and observe them here.
Three of MMI’s graduate students have successfully defended their theses and have been awarded their advanced degrees: In April 2014, Rebecca Hamner, PhD (conservation genetics and monitoring of New Zealand Maui's and Hector's dolphins), and in September 2014, both Alana Alexander, PhD (The influence of social structure and molecular evolution on genetic diversity in the sperm whale), and Sophie Pierszalowski, MSc (the influence of local fidelity and recruitment on population dynamics and specialized foraging of humpback whales in Glacier Bay and Icy Strait, Alaska). All three studied with Dr. Scott Baker in his Cetacean Conservation and Genomics Laboratory.