Non-lethal genetic sampling for identification of whales, dolphins, and porpoises (cetaceans) at sea remains challenging. Advances in analyses of environmental (e)DNA now offer an alternative for detection and identification of rare, cryptic, or vulnerable cetacean species. Here the DNA that is shed or excreted from individuals during normal activity can be collected from the environment, concentrated, and amplified via the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) using primers targeted for specific taxonomic groups. The Conservation and Genomic Laboratory is currently involved in a number of studies collecting (e)DNA from cetacean species, including killer whales, several species of beaked whales and North Atlantic right whales.

Pictured here: A Blainville’s beaked whale (Mesoplodon densirostris) on the Navy’s AUTEC range near Andros Island in the Bahamas. These are deep-diving whales that are seldom observed at the surface without the assistance of acoustic localization.

Baker, C. S., D. Steel, S. Nieukirk, and H. Klinck. 2018. Environmental DNA (eDNA) From the Wake of the Whales: Droplet Digital PCR for Detection and Species Identification. Frontiers in Marine Science 5:133.