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Keywords:

  • cetaceans;
  • forensic ecology;
  • humpback whale;
  • microsatellite;
  • population genetics;
  • sloughed skin

Sloughed whale skin contains enough DNA for genetic analysis, and offers a nonintrusive method for collecting tissue. Here, we examine the efficiency of sloughed skin sampling using 1460 samples collected from free-ranging humpback whales. Samples were sexed and screened for up to 10 microsatellite markers. The vast majority of samples appear genetically compatible with field observations. About 1% of groups revealed more genotypes than whales, but we argue that this is more likely to be due to unobserved whales than to contamination. Sloughed skin sampling is particularly effective when applied to active groups and offers a viable alternative to biopsy darting in regions where darting is either not permitted or otherwise undesirable.