Featured Image Credit: NOAA
By Sarah Sharkey
A recent study has found that the phenomena of inbreeding is present in the southern resident killer whale population that we all know and love.
Apparently, two males have fathered almost all of the calves. Why did this happen? Just like with some other species, the dominant males have the privilege of mating with females to produce calves. Normally, the genetic pool of a population can handle this kind of mate selection because the baby will be a part of a larger population. In a larger pool of animals with many mothers, fathers and calves the genetic similarities between calves of the same father are usually not a problem.
The southern resident killer whales have a frighteningly small population size, so having too many calves by the same father can result in inbreeding.
The scientists studying this phenomenon are attempting to discover how it will affect the long-term health of the dwindling population. It could mean negative health consequences for future offspring, including reduced reproductive health, lowered immune function and the expression of potentially lethal genes.
Only time will tell how this inbreeding will affect the whales, but hopefully, it will not put too much more stress on this already struggling population of awesome whales.
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