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Open Access Research article

Hybrids between common and Antarctic minke whales are fertile and can back-cross

Kevin A Glover1*, Naohisa Kanda2, Tore Haug3, Luis A Pastene2, Nils Øien1, Bjørghild B Seliussen1, Anne G E Sørvik1 and Hans J Skaug14

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Marine Research, PO box 1870, Nordnes N-5817, Bergen, Norway

2 Institute of Cetacean Research, Toyomi-cho 4-5, Chuo-ku, Tokyo 104-0055, Japan

3 Institute of Marine Research, PO box 6404, Tromsø N-9294, Norway

4 Department of Mathematics, University of Bergen, Bergen, N-5008, Norway

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BMC Genetics 2013, 14:25  doi:10.1186/1471-2156-14-25

Published: 15 April 2013

Abstract

Background

Minke whales are separated into two genetically distinct species: the Antarctic minke whale found in the southern hemisphere, and the common minke whale which is cosmopolitan. The common minke whale is further divided into three allopatric sub-species found in the North Pacific, southern hemisphere, and the North Atlantic. Here, we aimed to identify the genetic ancestry of a pregnant female minke whale captured in the North Atlantic in 2010, and her fetus, using data from the mtDNA control region, 11 microsatellite loci and a sex determining marker.

Results

All statistical parameters demonstrated that the mother was a hybrid displaying maternal and paternal contribution from North Atlantic common and Antarctic minke whales respectively. Her female fetus displayed greater genetic similarity to North Atlantic common minke whales than herself, strongly suggesting that the hybrid mother had paired with a North Atlantic common minke whale.

Conclusion

This study clearly demonstrates, for the first time, that hybrids between minke whale species may be fertile, and that they can back-cross. Whether contact between these species represents a contemporary event linked with documented recent changes in the Antarctic ecosystem, or has occurred at a low frequency over many years, remains open.