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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 398:275-286 (2010)  -  DOI:

Genetic evidence for sex-specific migratory behaviour in western South Pacific humpback whales

Elena Valsecchi1,*, Peter J. Corkeron2, Paolo Galli1, William Sherwin3, Giorgio Bertorelle4

1Department of Biotechnology and Biosciences, University of Milano-Bicocca, Piazza della Scienza 2, 20126 Milan, Italy
2Bioacoustics Research Program, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, 159 Sapsucker Woods Road, Ithaca, New York 14850, USA
3School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW 2052, Australia
4Department of Biology, University of Ferrara, Via L. Borsari, 46, 44100 Ferrara, Italy

ABSTRACT: Although predictable in its areas of occurrence, many aspects of humpback whale migration are still poorly understood. Nuclear DNA analysis has revealed a low level of relatedness among whales using the same migratory corridor, and has shown that closely related individuals tend not to travel in spatial association. Yet it still remains uncertain whether whales from different matrilineally discrete feeding stocks travel along the same migratory corridor for later mixing in common breeding waters. The western and central South Pacific Ocean is the only ocean basin where thousands of islands and reefs occur as suitable wintering habitat for humpback whales, so here their migratory behaviour may not be constrained by habitat. We analysed sex-specific and temporal distributions of 42 mitochondrial haplotypes detected in 135 humpback whales sampled off eastern Australia throughout 1 annual migration. A noticeable difference was found in haplotypic composition between northbound males and females, suggesting that the 2 sexes of any single matrilineal stock might select different and only partially overlapping migratory routes. We hypothesise that males most closely related to the N–S migrating females off eastern Australia migrate north elsewhere, perhaps past New Zealand. These findings suggest that longitudinal movements by male humpback whales are probably more extensive than currently thought, and indicate the need for re-examination of genetic data from humpback whales in the South Pacific, disaggregated by gender.

KEY WORDS: Cetacea · Control region · GAMOVA · Breeding grounds · mtDNA

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Cite this article as: Valsecchi E, Corkeron PJ, Galli P, Sherwin W, Bertorelle G (2010) Genetic evidence for sex-specific migratory behaviour in western South Pacific humpback whales. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 398:275-286.

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