The study's other coauthor was Mariano Sironi, scientific director of the Instituto de Conservacin de Ballenas (Institute for the Conservation of Whales) in Argentina.
Related Whales 'Chow Down' Together
For 38 years, Rowntree and colleagues have followed a group of southern right whales that migrate for three months each year to their calving area at Argentina's Pennsula Valds, "which is as far south of the equator as we are north of the equator here in Salt Lake City," says Rowntree, who also directs the right whale program at the Ocean Alliance's Whale Conservation Institute.
Adult southern right whales are up to 50 feet long, and their calves are about 20 feet long and weigh a ton at birth.
The whales migrate to their calving grounds in winter, when they fast, and give birth in early spring. Three months later, they travel long distances in the South Atlantic to feed for the remainder of the year on krill and on other crustaceans named copepods. Rowntree calls it "a huge chow down."
Whaling records from the 1800s and 1900s suggested southern right whales had six main feeding areas in the South Atlantic. However, scientists do not know where most of the whales feed now.
Rather than searching for right whale feeding grounds visually an enormous if not impossible task given the lack of ship traffic in the vast South Atlantic the scientists took a novel approach. During September and October of 2003 through 2006, Valenzuela collected small skin samples using a punch device that doesn't harm the animals.
"The skin sample is a little bigger than the size of a pencil eraser," Rowntree says.
From the skin samples, Valenzuela analyzed mitochondrial DN
|Contact: Lee Siegel|
University of Utah