Leviathan impacts: the once—and future?— presence of the Atlantic gray whale

This study combines DNA analysis of present-day Pacific gray whales and fossils—including newly reported specimens from the North Sea—with predictive habitat models to suggest the usefulness of keeping watch for future climate-driven dispersals of this Arctic sentinel species.

Data resources used via GBIF : 162 GBIF-mediated records
Gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) breaching

Public domain. Photo detail, 2005 Merrill Gosho / NOAA.

The extirpation of the gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) from the Atlantic Ocean is often attributed to overharvesting by the early modern whaling industry. But this hypothesis fails to explain the lack of catch records while overlooking possible connections with the population that inhabits the Pacific today.

This study combines DNA analysis of present-day Pacific gray whales and fossils—including newly reported specimens from the North Sea—with predictive habitat models built on occurrence data that includes 162 GBIF-mediated records. The results indicate that three historic Atlantic lineages intermingled with Pacific populations as and when sea level and ice cover declined earlier in the (present) Holocene era to provide them with high-latitude feeding grounds—insights that suggest the usefulness of keeping watch for future climate-driven dispersals of this Arctic sentinel species.

Citations

Alter SE, Meyer M, Post K et al. (2015) Climate impacts on transocean dispersal and habitat in gray whales from the Pleistocene to 2100. Molecular Ecology 24(7): 1510-1522. doi:10.1111/mec.13121

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