Humpback Whales in the Arabian Sea Have Been Isolated for 70,000 Years

Conservationists want this
particular population of
humpbacks to be classified as
critically endangered
image

A humpback whale in waters off southern
Oman. (Photo: Tobias Friedrich)
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Powerful genetic tools have given
scientists a new means for sniffing out
the existence of previously concealed
species—that two species of dolphin
are actually four , that Brazil has an
extra species of adorable wildcat, and
that the Caribbean has 24 new,
imperiled species of lizards . Now, a
similar discovery has emerged for
humpback whales. Researchers found
that one population of
Powerful genetic tools have given
scientists a new means for sniffing out
the existence of previously concealed
species—that two species of dolphin
are actually four , that Brazil has an
extra species of adorable wildcat, and
that the Caribbean has 24 new,
imperiled species of lizards . Now, a
similar discovery has emerged for
humpback whales. Researchers found
that one population of those gentle
giants, while not a distinct
species, has remained isolated in the
Arabian Sea for upwards of 70,000
years.
Humpback whales are normally
migratory, continuously journeying
around the Southern or Northern
hemispheres throughout their lifetime.
In the Arabian Sea, however, the
whales stay in place. But despite their
homebody tendencies, that population
has proven difficult to study in the
past, Discovery News writes.
Now, researchers have finally
managed to get their hands
on samples from 67 of the Arabian
whales. When the researchers
compared these with genetic
samples from the global
population, they found that the
Arabian whales likely made their way
to their present locations from the
Southern Indian Ocean and that
their journey took place around
70,000 years ago.
While their degree of genetic
divergence doesn’t warrant
classification as a new species, it does
mean the whales are highly distinct
and probably rank as “the world’s
most isolated humpback whale
population,” the authors write.
Humpback whales as a species are
listed as “least concern” by the
International Union for Conservation
of Nature—they’re in no danger of
going extinct any time soon. The
population living in the Arabian Sea,
however, is currently listed as
endangered. But the researchers think
this group of whales is so unique and
faces such serious threats that it
should get a new
designation: critically endangered.

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