ScienceShot: Who's Your Whale Daddy?

Male southern right whales (Eubalaena australis) are known to "get around." Every winter, they abandon their solitary migration habits and make their way to different sites along the Southern Hemisphere, where they mate with several females. But a new study reveals that not all male southern right whales are such lotharios—and that might be a bad thing. Researchers took small skin samples from right whales inhabiting the isolated subantarctic islands of New Zealand. Paternity testing showed that local right males fathered most of the baby whales in the same pack, suggesting that they were returning to the exact same mating grounds, and very few new males were coming in to mate with the females. Though the researchers aren't sure why the males are so loyal to one mating ground, they say that their behavior could endanger this already-threatened population. Without fresh genetic material, the New Zealand population could become inbred and future generations could become unhealthy, the team reports online this month in Molecular Ecology. Sooner, rather than later, these male southern right whales have got to just put themselves out there.

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Posted in Plants & Animals