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Keywords:

  • killer whale;
  • Orcinus orca;
  • mtDNA;
  • ecotype;
  • control region;
  • ancient DNA;
  • museum samples

Abstract

Little is known about the historical range of killer whale ecotypes in the eastern North Pacific (ENP). It is possible that ranges have shifted in the last few decades because of changes in availability of food. In particular, the southern resident ecotype, currently found primarily in the inland waters of Washington State, is known to prey extensively on salmon, which have declined in recent decades along the outer coasts of Washington, Oregon, and California. To investigate historical distributions of this and the other ENP ecotypes, samples of teeth and bones were obtained from NMFS and museum collections. We amplified a short section of the mitochondrial DNA control region that contains four diagnostic sites that differentiate between haplotypes found in ecotypes of ENP killer whales. Results did not show any southern resident haplotypes in samples from south of the Washington State inland waterways. One whale genetically identified as a northern resident extends the known southernmost distribution of the population from Oregon to California. Items of diet identified from stomach contents of six of the whales genetically identified to ecotype conformed with what is known of the feeding habits of the various ecotypes.