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October 27 2012

Ancient DNA sheds light on Arctic whale mysteries


Scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society, the American Museum of Natural History, City University of New York, and other organizations have published the first range-wide genetic analysis of the bowhead whale using hundreds of samples from both modern populations and archaeological sites used by indigenous Arctic hunters thousands of years ago.

In addition to using DNA samples collected from whales over the past 20 years, the team collected genetic samples from ancient specimens —extracted from old vessels, toys, and housing material made from baleen—preserved in pre-European settlements in the Canadian Arctic. The study attempts to shed light on the impacts of sea ice and commercial whaling on this threatened but now recovering species. The study appears in the most recent edition of Ecology and Evolution.

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