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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 690:201-217 (2022)  -  DOI:

A piece of the puzzle: analyses of recent strandings and historical records reveal new genetic and ecological insights on New Zealand sperm whales

Emily Palmer1,#, Alana Alexander2,#, Libby Liggins3, Marta Guerra4, Sarah J. Bury5, Hannah Hendriks6, Karen A. Stockin1, Katharina J. Peters1,7,8,*

1Cetacean Ecology Research Group, School of Natural Sciences, Massey University, Auckland 0745, New Zealand
2Department of Anatomy, University of Otago, Dunedin 9010, New Zealand
3School of Natural Sciences, Massey University, Auckland 0745, New Zealand
4Department of Marine Science, University of Otago, Dunedin 9016, New Zealand
5National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, Wellington 6021, New Zealand
6Department of Conservation, Te Papa Atawhai, Wellington 6011, New Zealand
7Evolutionary Genetics Group, Department of Anthropology, University of Zurich, 8057 Zurich, Switzerland
8School of Earth and Environment, University of Canterbury, Christchurch 8041, New Zealand
*Corresponding author:
#These authors contributed equally to this work

ABSTRACT: Cetacean strandings provide important opportunities to extend current knowledge on species or populations, particularly for species that are notoriously difficult to study, such as sperm whales Physeter macrocephalus (parāoa). Between 25 May and 9 June 2018, 13 male sperm whales stranded in Taranaki, New Zealand (NZ), with an additional male stranding 1 mo later in Clifford Bay, Marlborough. We profiled these 14 males for mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and carbon and nitrogen stable isotopes to examine their similarity to sperm whales from other geographic areas. Analyses of mtDNA revealed 7 haplotypes, including 1 not previously described (‘New’), and an additional haplotype (‘M’) new to NZ that had been previously reported in sperm whales of the Pacific region. Analysis of rare haplotypes found in NZ males suggested genetic links within NZ and the Southwest Pacific. Differences in stable isotope ratios indicated that, despite the close temporal proximity of these stranding events, individuals originated from at least 2 separate groups, with the whale stranded in Clifford Bay identified as being a regular visitor to Kaikōura, South Island. The analysis of stranding records in NZ dating back to 1873 indicated an increase in recorded single strandings since 1970, and a peak in single strandings in the austral summer months, but no seasonality for mass strandings. Sex predicted latitudinal location for single strandings, with 95.1% of female strandings occurring north of 42° S, fitting the general global distribution of female sperm whales limited to lower latitudes. This study provides the first temporal and spatial assessment of sperm whale strandings in NZ and highlights the need for future research on movements and genetic exchange between NZ sperm whales and sperm whales in the wider Pacific region.

Māori abstract

TUHINGA WHAKARĀPOPOTO: E mihi ana mātou ki a Tangaroa (ā, e ai ki ētahi iwi a Te Tai Tokerau, ki a Tāne-Mahuta anō hoki) rāua ko Hinemoana, te kāinga o te parāoa. Ka mihi hoki mātou ki ngā whānau, ngā hapū, me ngā iwi e tiaki i tēnei taonga. Hoki atu ki te parāoa, nāna i whakapapa pounamu te moana hei ara mō te rangahau nei. I tua atu ki te hiranga o te pae parāoa (Physeter macrocephalus) ki ngā Māori (he kai, he mea whakairo hoki nā te kaiwhakairo), he mea hira ki te ao pūtaiao i te mea he āheinga tēnei ki te whakahōhonu tō tātou mātauranga kararehe o te moana. He kōtuku rerenga tahi te mahi rangahau parāoa. Mai i te 25 o Mei ki te 9 o Hune 2018, tekau mā toru ngā parāoa taurawhi e pae ana i ngā uta o Taranaki. āpiti atu ki tērā, kōtahi te parāoa taurawhi e pāea i te Hūrae 2018 kei Te Tauihu-o-te-waka (Clifford Bay). Mā te mtDNA (he momo ira e tukua iho ngā māmā anake) me te kanoirite pūmau (te waro me te hauota) ka whakaahuatia ngā parāoa taurawhi. Ka whakaahua, ka kite ngā ritenga ki ngā tini parāoa nō ngā wāhi kē. E whitu ngā momo mtDNA e hua ana mai i te tātaritanga nei. Inarā, ko tētahi o ngā momo mtDNA he momo hou (‘New’), ko tētahi atu he momo kāore anō i kitea kei Aotearoa engari i kitea kei Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa whānui (‘M’). E ai ki ngā momo mtDNA mokorea, he kaha ake te whanaungatanga o ngā parāoa taurawhi o Aotearoa ki ngā parāoa uwha nō Aotearoa, nō te māuru-mā-tonga o Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa hoki. Ko ngā rerekētanga o ngā ōwehenga kanoirite pūmau e whakahahaki he rerekē te kāhui parāoa kei Taranaki ki te parāoa kei Clifford Bay, ahakoa he tata te wā e pae ana ngā parāoa nei i uta. Riterite tonu te parāoa i pāea kei Clifford Bay ki te toro ki Kaikōura. Ko ngā hua o te tātaritanga o ngā pūkete pāea kei Aotearoa (mai rā ano i te tau 1873), e tini piki ai ngā nama o te parāoa kōtahi e pae ana i uta mai rā anō i te tau 1970. I te raumati, ka tūtuki te tihi o ngā pae parāoa kōtahi. Heoi anō, he ōrite te nama o ngā pae parāoa e maha, puta noa i te tau. Ko te ira o te parāoa e aweawe te wahi e pāea. Arā, koni atu i te 95.1% o ngā parāoa uwha kōtahi e pae i ngā uta ki te tokerau o te ahopae 42°S. Orua tonu tēnei ki te mōhiohio ka noho ngā parāoa uwha ki ngā wai mahana, kei ngā ahopae o raro. Ahakoa kua kī te kete o Te Ao Māori i te mātauranga o ngā parāoa me ngā kāhui parāoa, ko tēnei te wā tuatahi e whakatere, e whakamānu te waka rangahau ki te rapu mātauranga parāoa mo te ao pūtaiao e pā ana ki ngā wahi me ngā wā i pae ai ngā parāoa ki Aotearoa. Kāore anō te kete mātauranga kia kī. He tino hira ngā hua o tēnei rangahau, engari he nui ngā pātai e toe ana. Me kohi tonu te mātauranga mō ngā haerenga o te parāoa, me te whakawhiti ira o ngā parāoa o Aotearoa me ngā parāoa o Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa whānui. Whaowhia te kete.

KEY WORDS: Physeter macrocephalus · Stable isotopes · δ15N · δ13C · Genetics · Haplotype diversity · mtDNA

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Cite this article as: Palmer E, Alexander A, Liggins L, Guerra M and others (2022) A piece of the puzzle: analyses of recent strandings and historical records reveal new genetic and ecological insights on New Zealand sperm whales. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 690:201-217.

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