ISSN 10227954, Russian Journal of Genetics, 2014, Vol. 50, No. 4, pp. 395–405. © Pleiades Publishing, Inc., 2014.
Original Russian Text © I.G. Meschersky, A.N. Chichkina, O.V. Shpak, V.V. Rozhnov, 2014, published in Genetika, 2014, Vol. 50, No. 4, pp. 452–463.
Despite the fact that bowhead whales (
) in the Sea of Okhotsk were hunted for a
long time and in considerable numbers [1–3], the
mere existence of a separate bowhead whale popula
tion on this territory was in doubt [4, 5]. Only in the
1960–1970s were the bowhead whale (rather than the
North Pacific right whale,
records documented [1, 6].
At present, the Sea of Okhotsk population of bow
head whale is listed in the Red Data Book of the Rus
sian Federation in Category 1 , and it is listed in the
IUCN Red List as endangered (Endangered D ).
Nevertheless, the data on the population state remain
scarce. The preexploitation stock size in the Sea of
Okhotsk [1, 3], the size of whale catches, (continued,
including the illegal catches, until the end of 1960s)
, and the number of survived whales still remain
unclear. The spatial population structure is also
unclear. Groups of bowhead whales are periodically
recorded near the Shantar Islands, and in spring and
early summer these whales are also observed in the
northern part of the sea, the Gulf of Shelikhov (Fig. 1).
It is possible that in July–August these individuals join
the main Shantar group, or they can stay apart from
this group (and not come in view of the observers) dur
ing the entire season [1, 9]. Clarifying these and other
issues using census methods is extremely hard because
of the very high cost of specially organized censuses
from aircrafts and ships, the unreliability of visual sur
veys performed by individual observers from the shore,
the effects of momentary weather conditions on any
censuses, and the inability of individual identification
of the whales observed.
At the same time, many of these issues could be
resolved through population monitoring, which is car
ried out using the methods of molecular genetic anal
ysis—not to mention that the genetic diversity indices
themselves are among the most important characteris
tics of the population status. However, in contrast to
populations and stocks of bowhead whales inhabiting
mostly territorial waters of the USA and Canada that
are well investigated in this respect [10–17, and oth
ers], the data on genetic population structure of bow
head whales in the Sea of Okhotsk are scarce.
In 1995 and 1996 and in 1999 and 2000, a joint Rus
sianAmerican research expedition worked in the
region of Shantar Islands and collected tissue samples
for genetic analysis. However, only a small part of the
data obtained was either published  or used as refer
ence material (without giving specific values) in the
analysis of other populations of the species .
In 2011–2012, we studied the cetaceans in
Ulbansky Bay of the Sea of Okhotsk and collected tis
sue samples of the bowhead whale.
The objective of the present study was to analyze
the results of the molecular genetic analysis of these
tissue samples and to compare the data obtained with
those for the Arctic (the Bering, Chukchi, and Beau
fort Seas) population of the species.
Note that, as was already mentioned, most of the
results of the analysis of the bowhead sample of 1995–
2000 remained unpublished. At the same time, these
data are represented in great detail in the Master’s the
sis of S. Maclean , electronically deposited in the
Library of the Texas A&M University, Texas, United
States. Given the particular value of the different year
sample comparisons and the importance of each indi
vidual sample, we found it necessary to take into
account the information presented in this manuscript
(with the kind permission of the author) in the analysis
of our results.
Molecular Genetic Analysis of the Shantar Summer Group
of Bowhead Whales (
L.) in the Okhotsk Sea
I. G. Meschersky
, A. N. Chichkina
, O. V. Shpak
, and V. V. Rozhnov
Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, 119071 Russia
Moscow State Pedagogical University, Department of Zoology and Ecology, Moscow, 129164 Russia
Received July 4, 2013; in final form, October 31, 2013
—The results of molecular genetic analysis (fulllength sequences of the mtDNA cytochrome b gene
and control region and the allelic composition of 14 microsatellite loci) of 65 tissue samples from the endangered
bowhead whale (
) population of the Sea of Okhotsk are presented. The data obtained enable the
suggestion that at present, the state of the Sea of Okhotsk bowhead whale population is relatively stable.