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Item Identification

Title: Found: a missing breeding ground for endangered western North Pacific humpback whales in the Mariana Archipelago
Status: Completed
Publication Date: 2020-01-20

Humpback whales Megaptera novaeangliae that breed in the western North Pacific (WNP) are listed as endangered under the US Endangered Species Act. Previous research in the WNP concluded that the full extent of humpback whale breeding areas is unknown. Recovering this endangered population requires identifying all associated breeding grounds and potential threats in those locations. Prior to 2015, humpback whales were known to occur in the Mariana Archipelago (within the WNP), but their population identity and habitat use there were unknown. To determine the population identity of humpback whales in the Mariana Archipelago and whether the area serves as a breeding ground for these whales, small-boat photo-identification and biopsy sampling surveys were conducted in the southern portion of the archipelago during February and March 2015-2018. A total of 14 mother-calf pairs and 27 other non-calf whales were encountered. Seven non-calves were re-sighted in multiple years, including 4 females associated with calves in one or more years. Competitive behavior was observed in multiple years. Comparisons with other North Pacific humpback whale catalogs resulted in matches to breeding (Japan and Philippines) and feeding (Russia) grounds in the WNP. DNA profiling of 28 biopsy samples identified 24 individuals (14 females, 10 males) representing 7 mitochondrial DNA haplotypes. The haplotype frequencies from the Mariana Archipelago showed the greatest identity with the Ogasawara breeding ground and Commander Islands feeding ground in the WNP. This study establishes the Mariana Archipelago as a breeding area for endangered WNP humpback whales, which should be considered in ongoing research and conservation efforts.

Other Citation Details:

Marie C. Hill 1,2*, Amanda L. Bradford 2, Debbie Steel 3, C. Scott Baker 3, Allan D. Ligon 4, Adam C. Ü 5, Jo Marie V. Acebes 6, Olga A. Filatova 7, Siri Hakala 2, Nozomi Kobayashi 8, Yukari Morimoto 9, Haruna Okabe 8, Ryosuke Okamoto 10, Julie Rivers 11, Takayuki Sato 9, Olga V. Titova 12, Robert K. Uyeyama 13, and Erin M. Oleson 2

1 Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research, Research Corporation of the University of Hawai‘i, Honolulu, HI 96822, USA

2 Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, NMFS, NOAA, Honolulu, HI 96818, USA

3 Marine Mammal Institute, Oregon State University, Newport, Oregon 97365, USA

4 Erin, Tennessee 37061, USA

5 Maple Falls, WA 98266, USA

6 BALYENA.ORG, Barangay Pangdan, Jagna, Bohol 6308, Philippines

7 Faculty of Biology, Moscow State University, Moscow 119992, Russia

8 Okinawa Churashima Research Center, Okinawa Churashima Foundation, 888 Ishikawa, Motobu-cho, Okinawa 905-0206, Japan

9 Ogasawara Marine Center, Everlasting Nature of Asia, Byoubudani Chichi-jima, Ogasawara-mura,

Tokyo, 100-2101, Japan

10 Ogasawara Whale Watching Association, Chichi-jima, Ogasawara-mura, Tokyo, 100-2101, Japan

11 Commander U.S. Navy Forces Europe/Africa, U.S. Sixth Fleet, Naples, Italy

12 Kamchatka Branch of Pacific Institute of Geography FEB RAS, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, 683024, Russia

13 Naval Facilities Engineering Command Pacific, Pearl Harbor, HI 96860, USA

DOI (Digital Object Identifier):


Theme Keywords

Thesaurus Keyword
None genetics
None humpback whale
None photo-identification

Spatial Keywords

Thesaurus Keyword
None Mariana Arichipelago

Physical Location

Organization: Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center
City: Honolulu
State/Province: HI
Country: USA

Document Information

Document Type: Journal article
Format: Acrobat Portable Document Format
Status Code: Final

Support Roles


CC ID: 839257
Date Effective From: 2019
Date Effective To:
Contact (Person): Hill, Marie C
Address: 1845 Wasp Blvd.
Honolulu, HI 96818
Email Address:
Phone: (808)725-5710

Access Information

Security Class: Unclassified

Distribution Information

Distribution 1

CC ID: 991380
Start Date: 2020-01-20
End Date: Present
Download URL:
File Type (Deprecated): PDF
Distribution Format: PDF - Adobe Portable Document Format

Related Items

Item Type Relationship Type Title
Project (PRJ) Cross Reference Biopsy Samples- Guam/CNMI EEZ (Marianas)
Project (PRJ) Cross Reference Cetacean Photos- Guam/CNMI EEZ (Marianas)
Project (PRJ) Cross Reference Small-boat Cetacean Surveys- Guam/CNMI EEZ (Marianas)

Catalog Details

Catalog Item ID: 56243
GUID: gov.noaa.nmfs.inport:56243
Metadata Record Created By: Marie C Hill
Metadata Record Created: 2019-05-06 21:55+0000
Metadata Record Last Modified By: SysAdmin InPortAdmin
Metadata Record Last Modified: 2023-10-17 16:12+0000
Metadata Record Published: 2020-10-22
Owner Org: PIFSC
Metadata Publication Status: Published Externally
Do Not Publish?: N
Metadata Last Review Date: 2020-10-22
Metadata Review Frequency: 1 Year
Metadata Next Review Date: 2021-10-22