The UHI Archaeology Institute’s Professor Ingrid Mainland and Martin Carruthers are co-authors of a new paper on the genetics of North Atlantic right whales – the rarest of all large cetaceans.
Right whales were once present on both sides of the North Atlantic and first exploited in the eastern Atlantic (along the west coasts of north Africa and Europe) and subsequently in the western Atlantic (along the east coasts of Canada and the United States). Today, a single population in an area covering a small portion of their former range.
When considering the conservation of this endangered species, a major question was how many populations existed prior to the advent of whaling? To investigate this, the project analysed DNA from 24 whalebones from the 4th to the 20th century AD from ten historical and archaeological sites in Iceland, the Faroe Islands, and Scotland.
The paper, Genetic examination of historical North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis) bone specimens from the eastern North Atlantic: Insights into species history, transoceanic population structure, and genetic diversity, by Brenna Frasier, Leah Springate, Timothy Frasier, Seth Brewington, Martin Carruthers, Ragnar Edvardsson, Ramona Harrison, Andrew Kitchener, Ingrid Mainland and Vicki E. Szabo, is open access and available here.
Published by the journal Marine Mammal Science, the paper is part of a collaboration with the National Science Foundation project Assessing the Distribution and Variability of Marine Mammals through Archaeology, Ancient DNA, and History in the North Atlantic, which is investigating the prehistoric and historic use of sea mammals in the North Atlantic and Eastern Arctic from 800-1500AD.