Sperm Whales

Your Wildbook database, powered with geneGIS

A growing number of large-scale studies of marine mammals and other marine megafauna (e.g., sharks, and turtles) are collecting spatially explicit records linked through individual identification to genetic samples, photo-identification and telemetry. These spatio-temporal records have been used to track the migration and life history parameters of individuals, to estimate the abundance and trends of populations and, in the case of genetic markers, to infer close kinship (e.g., parent/offspring relationships) and define management units, or Distinct Population Segments.

Wildbook and the computational tools of the geneGIS initiative (with funding from ONR) were developed to help manage and explore databases of photo-identification records and associated genetic information. The database structure and tools provide for visual exploration of individual encounters and group occurrences of individual whales identified by photographs of natural marking (photo-ID), by DNA profiles (microsatellite genotypes) or from both sources of identity. To date, the Wildbook framework has been used for the integration of photo-identification records and DNA profiles (with mtDNA haplotypes and microsatellite genotypes) collected during the ocean-wide survey of humpback whales in the North Pacific, Structure of Populations, Levels of Abundance and Status of Humpbacks (SPLASH). Wildbook is also been used for managing catalogues of individual identification photographs of other marine megafauna, including whale sharks and manta rays, although these currently lack associated genetic information.


Voyage of the Odyssey

Circumequatorial Genetic Diversity and Differentiation of Sperm Whales

The Voyage of the Odyssey was a five year expedition (2000 - 2005) sponsored by the Ocean Alliance (http://www.oceanalliance.org) that set out to gain a baseline level of contaminants in the world's oceans. They had a novel way of doing this: using non-lethal tissue samples from the sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus)! Sperm whales are great ocean sentinels for this task, being at the top of the food chain, and having a rather ample blubber layer!

Using the biopsy samples collected, we can also look at patterns of genetic diversity and differentiation in the sperm whale: investigating how whales in different areas of the world may be interacting based on their DNA. In this database we have the genetic profiles of 598 samples representing 467 individuals. The genetic profiles for each sample include genetically identified sex, mitochondrial DNA (a type of marker you only get from your mom - it is maternally-inherited) and up to 13 microsatellite loci (which are nuclear markers we use as a DNA fingerprint to tell if samples came from the same whale or not). We hope to make this database publically available for citizen scientists to investigate patterns of genetic diversity.

Data Contributors and Supporters

Ocean Alliance and its generous donors and sponsors funded the Voyage of the Odyssey and collection of samples. DNA has been archived with the Wise Laboratory of Environmental and Genetic Toxicology, University of Southern Maine. The genetic results presented here were generated at the Cetacean Conservation and Genomics Laboratory, Hatfield Marine Science Center (HMSC), Oregon State University (OSU), with the support of an International Fulbright Science and Technology Award, HMSC, OSU's Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, and the American Cetacean Society.

Contact us

For information about the genetic side of this project, please contact: Alana Alexander

If you would like to learn more about the toxicological findings of the Voyage of the Odyssey, and ongoing Odyssey research, please visit the Ocean Alliance website(http://www.oceanalliance.org)

If you'd like to learn more about the voyage itself, please visit the interactive PBS website (http://www.pbs.org/odyssey/voyage/index.html) that was constructed during the voyage. Thanks for reading!