Mitochondrial DNA diversity of the Southwestern Atlantic humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) breeding area off Brazil, and the potential connections to Antarctic feeding areas

Engel, Márcia Helena; Fagundes, Nelson Jurandi Rosa; Rosenbaum, Howard; Leslie, Matthew; Ott, Paulo Henrique; Schmitt, Renata Schmitt; Secchi, Eduardo Resende; Rosa, Luciano Dalla; Bonatto, Sandro Luis


In the Southwestern Atlantic Ocean, humpback whales migrate every winter to the Brazilian coast for breeding and calving in the Abrolhos Bank. This breeding stock represents the remnants of a larger population heavily exploited during the beginning of the 20th century. Despite its relevance to conservation efforts, the degree of current genetic variation and the migratory relationship with Antarctic feeding areas for this population are still largely unknown. To examine these questions, we sequenced *400 bp of the mitochondrial DNA control region from samples taken off the Brazilian coast (n = 171) and near the Antarctic Peninsula (n = 77). The genetic variability of the Brazilian humpback whale breeding population was high and similar to that found in other Southern Hemisphere breeding grounds. Phylogenetic analysis suggested the existence of a new mitochondrial clade that exists at low frequency among Southern Hemisphere populations.Direct comparison between the Brazilian and the Colombia breeding populations and the Antarctic Peninsula feeding population showed no genetic differentiation between this feeding region and the Colombian breeding area or between feeding Areas I and II near the Antarctic Peninsula.In contrast, these populations were genetically distinct from the Brazilian population. Two humpback whales sampled off South Georgia Islands, in the Scotia Sea,shared identical haplotypes to whales from Brazil. Our results, supported by photo-identification and satellite telemetry data, suggest that the main feeding area of the Southern Hemisphere humpback whale population is likely to be located near the South Georgia/South Sandwich Islands area and not in the Antarctic Peninsula.

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