Blue Whale Study Inc.

Narrawong, Australia

Blue Whale Study Inc.

Narrawong, Australia
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Lavery T.J.,Flinders University | Roudnew B.,Flinders University | Gill P.,Blue Whale Study Inc. | Seymour J.,Flinders University | And 6 more authors.
Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences | Year: 2010

The iron-limited Southern Ocean plays an important role in regulating atmospheric CO2 levels. Marine mammal respiration has been proposed to decrease the efficiency of the Southern Ocean biological pump by returning photosynthetically fixed carbon to the atmosphere. Here, we show that by consuming prey at depth and defecating iron-rich liquid faeces into the photic zone, sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) instead stimulate new primary production and carbon export to the deep ocean. We estimate that Southern Ocean sperm whales defecate 50 tonnes of iron into the photic zone each year. Molar ratios of Cexport : Feadded determined during natural ocean fertilization events are used to estimate the amount of carbon exported to the deep ocean in response to the iron defecated by sperm whales. We find that Southern Ocean sperm whales stimulate the export of 4 × 105 tonnes of carbon per year to the deep ocean and respire only 2 × 10 5 tonnes of carbon per year. By enhancing new primary production, the populations of 12 000 sperm whales in the Southern Ocean act as a carbon sink, removing 2 × 105 tonnes more carbon from the atmosphere than they add during respiration. The ability of the Southern Ocean to act as a carbon sink may have been diminished by large-scale removal of sperm whales during industrial whaling. © 2010 The Royal Society.

Attard C.R.M.,Macquarie University | Beheregaray L.B.,Macquarie University | Beheregaray L.B.,Flinders University | Jenner C.,Center for Whale Research | And 9 more authors.
Conservation Genetics | Year: 2010

The worldwide distribution of blue whales (Balaenoptera musculus) has not prevented this species from becoming endangered due to twentieth century whaling. In Australia there are two known feeding aggregations of blue whales, which most likely are the pygmy subspecies (B. m. brevicauda). It is unknown whether individuals from these feeding aggregations belong to one breeding stock, or multiple breeding stocks that either share or occupy separate feeding grounds. This was investigated using ten microsatellite loci and mitochondrial DNA control region sequences (N = 110). Both sets of markers revealed no significant genetic structure, suggesting that these whales are likely to belong to the same breeding stock. © 2010 Springer Science+Business Media B.V.

Attard C.R.M.,Macquarie University | Beheregaray L.B.,Flinders University | Jenner K.C.S.,Center for Whale Research | Gill P.C.,Blue Whale Study Inc. | And 6 more authors.
Molecular Ecology | Year: 2012

Understanding the degree of genetic exchange between subspecies and populations is vital for the appropriate management of endangered species. Blue whales (Balaenoptera musculus) have two recognized Southern Hemisphere subspecies that show differences in geographic distribution, morphology, vocalizations and genetics. During the austral summer feeding season, the Antarctic blue whale (B. m. intermedia) is found in polar waters and the pygmy blue whale (B. m. brevicauda) in temperate waters. Here, we genetically analyzed samples collected during the feeding season to report on several cases of hybridization between the two recognized blue whale Southern Hemisphere subspecies in a previously unconfirmed sympatric area off Antarctica. This means the pygmy blue whales using waters off Antarctica may migrate and then breed during the austral winter with the Antarctic subspecies. Alternatively, the subspecies may interbreed off Antarctica outside the expected austral winter breeding season. The genetically estimated recent migration rates from the pygmy to Antarctic subspecies were greater than estimates of evolutionary migration rates and previous estimates based on morphology of whaling catches. This discrepancy may be due to differences in the methods or an increase in the proportion of pygmy blue whales off Antarctica within the last four decades. Potential causes for the latter are whaling, anthropogenic climate change or a combination of these and may have led to hybridization between the subspecies. Our findings challenge the current knowledge about the breeding behaviour of the world's largest animal and provide key information that can be incorporated into management and conservation practices for this endangered species. © 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

Attard C.R.M.,Flinders University | Attard C.R.M.,Macquarie University | Beheregaray L.B.,Flinders University | Jenner K.C.S.,Center for Whale Research | And 7 more authors.
Biology Letters | Year: 2015

Unusually low genetic diversity can be a warning of an urgent need to mitigate causative anthropogenic activities. However, current low levels of genetic diversity in a population could also be due to natural historical events, including recent evolutionary divergence, or long-term persistence at a small population size. Here, we determine whether the relatively low genetic diversity of pygmy blue whales (Balaenoptera musculus brevicauda) in Australia is due to natural causes or overexploitation. We apply recently developed analytical approaches in the largest genetic dataset ever compiled to study blue whales (297 samples collected after whaling and representing lineages from Australia, Antarctica and Chile). We find that low levels of genetic diversity in Australia are due to a natural founder event from Antarctic blue whales (Balaenoptera musculus intermedia) that occurred around the Last Glacial Maximum, followed by evolutionary divergence. Historical climate change has therefore driven the evolution of blue whales into genetically, phenotypically and behaviourally distinct lineages that will likely be influenced by future climate change. © 2015 The Author(s) Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.

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