SPLASH was an international cooperative effort involving researchers from the United States, Japan, Russia, Mexico, Canada, the Philippines, Costa Rica, Panama, Nicaragua and Guatemala. The aims of the three-year project were to understand the population structure of humpback whales across the North Pacific and to assess the status, trends in abundance and potential human impacts to this population.

From 2004 to 2006 (three winter breeding seasons and two summer feeding seasons), tail fluke photographs (for individual identification), skin biopsy samples (for genetic and pollutant analyses) and photographs of flanks and tail stocks (for human impact assessment) were collected from thousands of whales across the North Pacific. For more detailed information about the SPLASH project visit: http://splashcatalog.org/

The Cetacean Conservation and Genetics Laboratory conducted the primary genetic analyses associated with the SPLASH projects, referred to as gene SPLASH. Our interests were:

  • To describe the population structure of maternally inherited mitochondrial (mt) DNA and of biparentally inherited nuclear (nu) DNA diversity among feeding and breeding regions;
  • To compare mtDNA and nuDNA differentiation among feeding and breeding grounds for evidence of sex-biased dispersal or geneflow at the individual demographic scale (see below) and the long-term evolutionary scale;
  • To provide information on regional frequencies of mtDNA haplotypes or haplogroups, with the intent of detecting components of the oceanic population that have remained under-represented in the surveys;
  • To improve estimates of demographic interchange, particularly of breeding to feeding grounds, using individual assignment tests based on multi-locus genotypes and mtDNA sequences;and
  • To provide individual-specific microsatellite genotypes for the purposes of capture-recapture estimation of abundance in collaboration with SPLASH members

This research was funded by a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) and the MMI Endowment.

Baker, CS, D Steel, J Calambokidis, EA Falcone, U Gozález-Peral, J Barlow, AM Burdin, PJ Clapham, JKB Ford, CM Gabriele, D Mattila, L Rojas-Bracho, JM Straley, BL Taylor, J Urbán-R.,  P Wade, D Weller, BH Witteveen, M. Yamaguchi. 2013. Strong maternal fidelity and natal philopatry shape genetic structure in North Pacific humpback whales. Marine Ecology Progress Series. 494: 291-306. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps10508


Initial results of the ocean-wide survey of of genetic diversity and population differentiation are included in the final contract report for geneSPLASH.

Baker, C.S., D. Steel, J. Calambokidis, J. Barlow, A.M. Burdin, P.J. Clapham, E.A. Falcone, J.K.B. Ford, C.M. Gabriele, U. Gozález-Peral, R. LeDuc, D. Mattila, T.J. Quinn, L. Rojas-Bracho, J.M. Straley, B.L. Taylor, J. Urbán-R., M. Vant, P. Wade, D. Weller, B.H. Witteveen, K. Wynne and M. Yamaguchi. 2008. geneSPLASH: An initial, ocean-wide survey of mitochondrial (mt) DNA diversity and population structure among humpback whales in the North Pacific. Final report for Contract 2006-0093-008 to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.  [pdf]

Regional results for the Gulf of Alaska were included in,

Witteveen, B.H., J.M. Straley, E. Chenoweth, C.S. Baker, J. Barlow, C. Matkin, C.M. Gabriele, J. Neilson, D. Steel, O. von Ziegesar, A.G. Andrews and A. Hirons. 2011. Using movements, genetics and trophic ecology to differentiate inshore from offshore aggregations of humpback whales in the Gulf of Alaska. Endangered Species Research 14:217-225.