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Worldwide structure of mtDNA diversity among Cuvier's beaked whales (Ziphius cavirostris): implications for threatened populations


Merel L. Dalebout, Present address: Biology Department, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia B3H 4J1, Canada. Fax: 1-902-494-3736; E-mail:


We present the first description of phylogeographic structure among Cuvier's beaked whales (Ziphius cavirostris) worldwide using mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) control region sequences obtained from strandings (n = 70), incidental fisheries takes (n = 11), biopsy (n = 1), and whale-meat markets (n = 5). Over a 290-base pair fragment, 23 variable sites defined 33 unique haplotypes among the total of 87 samples. Nucleotide diversity at the control region was relatively low (π = 1.27%± 0.723%) compared to wide-ranging baleen whales, but higher than strongly matrifocal sperm, pilot and killer whales. Phylogenetic reconstruction using maximum likelihood revealed four distinct haplotype groups, each of which displayed strong frequency differences among ocean basins, but no reciprocal monophyly or fixed character differences. Consistent with this phylogeographic pattern, an analysis of molecular variance showed high levels of differentiation among ocean basins (FST = 0.14, ΦST = 0.42; P < 0.001). Estimated rates of female migration among ocean basins were low (generally ≤ 2 individuals per generation). Regional sample sizes were too small to detect subdivisions within oceans except in the North Atlantic, where the Mediterranean Sea (n = 12) was highly differentiated due to the presence of two private haplotypes. One market product purchased in South Korea grouped with other haplotypes found only in the North Atlantic, suggesting a violation of current agreements banning international trade in cetacean species. Together, these results demonstrate a high degree of isolation and low maternal gene flow among oceanic, and in some cases, regional populations of Cuvier's beaked whales. This has important implications for understanding the threats of human impact, including fisheries by-catch, direct hunting, and disturbance or mortality from anthropogenic sound.