Wednesday, March 31, 2010

North Atlantic right whales switched at birth!

Recently researchers at the New England Aquarium, in collaboration with researchers at Trent University in Ontario, Canada, and Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, Canada, are reporting the first genetic confirmation of adoption in a wild cetacean. This is also the first documented case of an adoption in a baleen whale!

Right whale mother Mavynne (catalog #1151) is one of the whales involved in the 1986 switch. Here she is photographed with her newest calf.
Mavynne has been a regular on the Right Whale Research Blog. Learn about her close call with fishing gear here.

While working to create right whale family trees by linking right whale DNA data with our Right Whale Catalog’s long-term photo-identification data, the genetic profiles of two mothers were found to mismatch their calves. After a thorough investigation to eliminate the possibility of error, researchers confidently believe that this is indeed a case of North Atlantic right whales switched at birth, also known as a confirmed case of a double adoption.

How did this happen? Researchers believe that since this coincides with the approximate time of an intense storm that occurred within the right whale calving ground (find more information about the calving ground on recent posts on the Right Whale Research Blog), that it was within the chaos of the storm the calves were switched. Researchers believe that this must have occurred within the first couple weeks of the calves’ births, before the mother-calf pairs were able to recognize each other's calls and so the calves imprinted on the new adopted mother. The work was recently published in Aquatic Mammals.

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