Conservation Genetics

, Volume 9, Issue 5, pp 1253–1262 | Cite as

Mitochondrial DNA diversity of the Southwestern Atlantic humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) breeding area off Brazil, and the potential connections to Antarctic feeding areas

  • Márcia H. Engel
  • Nelson J. R. Fagundes
  • Howard C. Rosenbaum
  • Matthew S. Leslie
  • Paulo H. Ott
  • Renata Schmitt
  • Eduardo Secchi
  • Luciano Dalla Rosa
  • Sandro Luis BonattoEmail author
Research Article


In the Southwestern Atlantic Ocean, humpback whales migrate every winter to the Brazilian coast for breeding and calving in the Abrolhos Bank. This breeding stock represents the remnants of a larger population heavily exploited during the beginning of the 20th century. Despite its relevance to conservation efforts, the degree of current genetic variation and the migratory relationship with Antarctic feeding areas for this population are still largely unknown. To examine these questions, we sequenced ∼400 bp of the mitochondrial DNA control region from samples taken off the Brazilian coast (n = 171) and near the Antarctic Peninsula (n = 77). The genetic variability of the Brazilian humpback whale breeding population was high and similar to that found in other Southern Hemisphere breeding grounds. Phylogenetic analysis suggested the existence of a new mitochondrial clade that exists at low frequency among Southern Hemisphere populations. Direct comparison between the Brazilian and the Colombia breeding populations and the Antarctic Peninsula feeding population showed no genetic differentiation between this feeding region and the Colombian breeding area or between feeding Areas I and II near the Antarctic Peninsula. In contrast, these populations were genetically distinct from the Brazilian population. Two humpback whales sampled off South Georgia Islands, in the Scotia Sea, shared identical haplotypes to whales from Brazil. Our results, supported by photo-identification and satellite telemetry data, suggest that the main feeding area of the Southern Hemisphere humpback whale population is likely to be located near the South Georgia/South Sandwich Islands area and not in the Antarctic Peninsula.


Humpback whale Mitochondrial DNA Abrolhos Bank Antarctic Peninsula Genetic diversity Megaptera novaeangliae 



We thank the staff of Instituto Baleia Jubarte/Humpback Whale Institute—Brazil, Projeto Baleias/PROANTAR (Paul G. Kinas, Manuela Bassoi, Marcos C. O. Santos, Paulo A. C. Flores and Daniel Danilewicz) and colleagues of the Centro de Biologia Genômica e Molecular/PUCRS for their help in field and lab activities. We thank C. Olavarría and colleagues for sharing the information that resulted on our joint discovery of the SH clade and especially to CO for reviewing a preliminary version of the manuscript. We are also indebted to Cristina Pomilla, Thales R. O. de Freitas, Larissa Heinzelmann, Aria Johnson and Bradley White for their important contributions in the lab and to Dr. Anthony Martin for his support of the South Georgia IBJ Expedition. We would also like to thank Per Palsbøll and two anonymous reviewers for their comments and suggestions on an earlier version of this paper. This study was done in partnership with IBAMA (Brazil), the Wildlife Conservation Society, and the American Museum of Natural History/USA. Instituto Baleia Jubarte was sponsored by Petróleo Brasileiro S.A. (PETROBRAS). Data regarding South Georgia samples are result of a partnership between Centro de Pesquisas Leopoldo M. de Mello—PETROBRAS and Instituto Baleia Jubarte—Brazil, through the “Marine Mammal and Turtle Project”. Projeto Baleias/PROANTAR acknowledges CNPq, Marinha do Brasil, Secretaria da Comissão Interministerial para os Recursos do Mar and Ministério do Meio Ambiente for their support. MHE was also supported by a Lerner-Grey fellowship from the American Museum of Natural History, and sequencing and analysis of some Brazilian samples by grants to HCR. SLB received grants from FAPERGS and CNPq. LDR was supported by CAPES (Grant BEX1339/02-8).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Márcia H. Engel
    • 1
    • 2
  • Nelson J. R. Fagundes
    • 2
  • Howard C. Rosenbaum
    • 3
    • 4
  • Matthew S. Leslie
    • 3
    • 4
  • Paulo H. Ott
    • 5
  • Renata Schmitt
    • 2
  • Eduardo Secchi
    • 6
    • 7
  • Luciano Dalla Rosa
    • 6
    • 8
  • Sandro Luis Bonatto
    • 2
    Email author
  1. 1.Instituto Baleia Jubarte/Humpback Whale InstituteCaravelasBrazil
  2. 2.Faculdade de BiociênciasPontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio Grande do SulPorto AlegreBrazil
  3. 3.The Wildlife Conservation Society, Cetacean Conservation and Research ProgramInternational Conservation-MarineBronxUSA
  4. 4.American Museum of Natural HistorySackler Institute for Comparative Genomics and Center for Biodiversity and ConservationNew YorkUSA
  5. 5.Grupo de Estudos de Mamíferos Aquáticos do Rio Grande do SulPorto AlegreBrazil
  6. 6.Projeto Baleias/Brazilian Antarctic ProgramRio GrandeBrazil
  7. 7.Laboratório de Mamíferos Marinhos, Museu Oceanográfico “Prof. Eliézer C. Rios”Fundação Universidade Federal do Rio GrandeRio GrandeBrazil
  8. 8.Marine Mammal Research Unit, Fisheries Centre and Department of ZoologyUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada

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