Friday, July 25, 2003

Washington Post: New Estimates on Whale Population

Scientists may have profoundly underestimated the number of whales that once lived in the North Atlantic Ocean, a controversial finding that could have critical implications for the future of whaling and whale conservation, a new genetic study concludes.

The gulf between the new estimates and those from existing historical-statistical studies is so vast -- a difference of several hundred thousand animals -- that it has already provoked a spirited debate over scientists' techniques in gathering and analyzing the data.

"We're suggesting that the oceans can support these populations in the long term, and in fact did," said geneticist Joe Roman, a Harvard University graduate student and co-author of the new study with Stanford biologist Stephen R. Palumbi. "There are all kinds of different views on this, and we knew it was going to be controversial, but this is what the data show."

Roman and Palumbi analyzed DNA from three species of North Atlantic whales and found the genetic variation to be unexpectedly high in all cases -- a result indicating that before commercial whaling began in the 17th and 18th centuries there was a much larger pool of animals than historical records suggest.

In fact, the authors report today in the journal Science, their analysis showed that the pre-whaling, or "historic," population of humpback whales in the North Atlantic was 240,000, 12 times as many as the current historical-statistical estimate of 20,000. There are about 10,000 now.

Roman and Palumbi also estimated the historic population of fin whales at 360,000, nine times more than historical-statistical estimates of 40,000, and the population of minke whales at 265,000, as against statistical estimates of approximately 100,000.

My wild streak must be coming out now. One of my dreams is to go an a whaling reasearch or hunting expedition.


Post a Comment

<< Home