The first paternity study of southern right whales has found a surprisingly high level of local breeding success for males, scientists say, which is good news for the overall genetic diversity of the species, but could create risk for local populations through in-breeding.
Results of the study, by researchers at the University of Auckland, Oregon State University and the New Zealand Department of Conservation, have just been published in the journal Molecular Ecology.
The study found that most of the right whales born near the remote sub-Antarctic islands of New Zealand were fathered by males from the same local population, according to lead author Emma Carroll, who recently completed her doctorate at the University of Auckland.
“This finding gives us information on the breeding behaviour of right whales, but more importantly it shows that the New Zealand population is relatively isolated from other populations in the region, including that of neighbouring Australia,” Carroll said in a media release from Oregon State University.
The research has received attention from the New Zealand media with examples including: