MEPS 247:263-280 (2003)  -  doi:10.3354/meps247263

Genetic population structure of minke whales Balaenoptera acutorostrata from Greenland, the North East Atlantic and the North Sea probably reflects different ecological regions

Liselotte W. Andersen1,2,6,*, Erik W. Born2, Rune Dietz3, Tore Haug4, Nils Øien5, Christian Bendixen1

1Danish Institute for Agricultural Sciences, Molecular Genetics, PO Box 50, 8830 Tjele, Denmark
2Greenland Institute of Natural Resources, PO Box 570, 3900 Nuuk, Greenland
3National Environmental Research Institute, Department of Arctic Environment, PO Box 358, 4000 Roskilde, Denmark
4Centre of Marine Resources, Fiskeriforskning, University of Tromsø, 9037 Tromsø, Norway
5Marine Research Institute, PO Box 1870, 5817 Bergen, Norway
6Present address: National Environmental Research Institute, Department of Coastal Zone Ecology, Grenåvej 12, 8410 Rønde, Denmark
*Email:

ABSTRACT: A genetic study to determine the population structure of minke whales Balaenoptera acutorostrata in Greenland, the Central and NE Atlantic and the North Sea was carried out on a sample of 306 individuals. Samples were analysed by sequencing the D-loop in mtDNA and using 16 polymorphic nuclear microsatellite markers. Muscle samples from a total of 154 minke whales, caught between 6 May and 31 October 1998 by Greenland and Norwegian licensed whalers within 6 areas of the North Atlantic, were analysed (West Greenland, n = 44; Jan Mayen, n = 24; Svalbard, n = 16; the Barents Sea, n = 33; Vesterålen/Lofoten on the coast of northwestern Norway, n = 14, and the North Sea, n = 23). In addition, 30 minke whales sampled in East Greenland during 1996, 1997 and 1999 were included. Furthermore, 122 minke whales caught in West Greenland in 3 different years (1982, 1996 and 1997) were analysed to determine potential inter-annual variation within a sampling area. The lack of inter-annual variation in West Greenland suggests that the minke whales summering in the area year after year belong to the same sub-population. The study indicated the existence of 4 genetically differentiated sub-populations: (1) West Greenland, (2) Central North Atlantic-East Greenland-Jan Mayen area, (3) NE Atlantic (Svalbard, the Barents Sea and northwestern Norway), and (4) North Sea. It is suggested that these sub-populations have been isolated by discontinuities between regions, i.e. each of the sub-populations has evolved in response to regional differences in ecological conditions (oceanography, ice cover, prey type and prey availability).


KEY WORDS: North Atlantic · Minke whale · Balaenoptera acutorostrata · Microsatellites · mtDNA · Population structure


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