Featured Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons
By: Sarah Sharkey/span>
A recent genetic survey has revealed a unique population among blue whales. The species is normally considered to be migratory in a manner that follows their food around the world seasonally. However, a population of several hundred whales off the coast of New Zealand appears to be permanent residents.
Unlike their counterparts that follow krill to the poles of the Earth on a yearly basis, these whales just stay put in New Zealand’s waters.
The discovery did not happen overnight, it started in 2011. Someone told a researcher at Oregon State University’s Marine Mammal Institute that there was a sighting of nine blue whales together off the coast of New Zealand. The sighting happened during seismic testing. The high number of huge animals lead Leigh Torres, the researcher at OSU, to investigate further.
After digging through old whaling records, she published a paper with the hypothesis that New Zealand could support a permanent population of blue whales. The idea was based on the huge amounts of upwelling that could, in theory, feed the whales.
She continued to accumulate more evidence through field studies, genetic testing and aerial counts. All of that effort culminated in the discovery that these whales are in fact genetically distinct. This kind of information is extremely important when it comes to conservation of these animals in the future.
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