• Ben Neely

The spotted seal gets its name from its coat pattern: dark spots on a silvery-gray to light gray background. They can weigh between 140 and 250 pounds (63 to 113 kilograms) and reach 4.5 to 5.5 feet (1.4 to 1.7 meters) in length. They prefer arctic to sub-arctic waters, often on the outer margins of ice floes. Specifically in U.S. waters, they migrate through the Bering Strait from the Chukchi Sea in the fall, spending the winter in the annual pack ice over the continental shelf there. In the spring, following the retreat of sea ice, they migrate to coastal habitats from Siberia and Alaska to coastal Japan and the northern Yellow Sea. During summer months they can be found in the open ocean or hauled out on shore.

Photo Credit: Dave Withrow (NOAA); Marine Mammal Permit: 15126

In contrast to notorious deep divers like the Weddell or elephant seal, spotted seals feed almost exclusively over the continental shelf in waters less than 650 feet (200 meters) deep. Though their global population is estimated at more than 500,000 individuals, they are sensitive to changes in the environment that affect the annual timing and extent of sea ice formation and breakup since they rely on sea ice during reproduction and to some extent during molting.

Spotted seals are also big on family time. Though unusual among true seals, spotted seals form annual family groups consisting of an annually monogamous male, a female and a pup during the breeding season. Gestation lasts just over 10 months and pups are born with a white coat. Pups are then nursed for 3 to 6 weeks as they triple in weight, and usually shed their white coat for a spotted coat when they are weaned.

Today we release the genome assembly for the spotted seal! This is a $1K genome assembly with a contig n50 = 56 KB and scaffold n50 = 142 MB, strategy described in (Dudchenko et al., 2018). See our Methods page for more details.

This is the 5th Phocidae species that the DNA Zoo has released! Check out these posts on the Hawaiian monk seal, Northern elephant seal, the bearded seal and the harbor seal. In places that harbor seals and spotted seals co-habit such as Bristol Bay, they can be confused with each other due to their similar appearance.

This work was performed under Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program (MMHSRP) Permit No. 18786-03 issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) under the authority of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) and Endangered Species Act (ESA). The spotted seal (Phoca largha) specimen used in this study was collected from Kotzebue Sound, AK by James Jones and Sherman Anderson. The specimen was provided by the National Marine Mammal Tissue Bank, which is maintained by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in the NIST Biorepository, which is operated under the direction of NMFS with the collaboration of USGS, USFWS, MMS, and NIST through the Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program and the Alaska Marine Mammal Tissue Archival Project.

Check out the interactive Juicebox.js map with the 16 chromosomes of the new assembly below!

  • Ruqayya Khan

Is it a fox? Is it a wolf? Though its name or fur coloring may imply it, the maned wolf is actually neither. It belongs to a genus all of its own, Chrysocyon, the full binomial being Chrysocyon brachyurus. The maned wolf stands about 3ft tall, with long graceful legs suited the grasslands, savannas, and wetlands it inhabits in South America. Their large ears help them locate small animals, fruits, and insects hidden in the grasses. The jaws and teeth of the maned are small and ill-suited to hunt large animals and livestock.

The maned wolf is not a pack animal, instead they prefer the solitary life. The one exception is their mate, with which they maintain a monogamous lifestyle [1]. The maned wolf does not howl, rather it emits a loud, roar-bark to warn others to stay away or to locate it's mate. They also mark their territory with their strong smelling urine.

Like many forest-dwelling animals, the maned wolf is victim to habitat loss and poaching and is listed as near threatened by the IUCN.

Maned wolf by Cloudtail the Snow Leopard, [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0], via flickr.com

Today, we release the genome assembly for the maned wolf. This is another $1K genome assembly, with a contig n50 = 91KB and a scaffold n50 = 61MB. For procedure details see Dudchenko et al., 2018 and our Methods page.

Many thanks to Seis, the maned wolf from the Houston Zoo for donating the sample to make this assembly possible! Check out this post featuring Seis about unconventional pollinators by the Houston Zoo.

This is our 9th Canidae in the collection, after the red fox, several dog breeds including the German shepherd, golden retriever and the Basenji, the African wild dog and 3 dingo assemblies (here, here and here)!

P.S.: If you were wondering, like we did, were's the mane, it is on the neck. It stands erect when the maned wolf scents danger!

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  • Ragini Mahajan

The Malayan sun bear (Helarctos malayanus) is natively found in parts of Asia, stretching from the Himalayas and the Szechuan region of China to the Malayan peninsula. Their habitats are typically dense with trees, and these bears are famous for being agile and fast tree-climbers! [1]

Belonging to the Ursidae family, they are the smallest bears of their family and are usually under 1.5m tall. To conceal this small size, the normally black colored bears sometimes have a ‘U’ shaped, white patch on their chest that gives the appearance of larger size to predators and attackers. The Malayan sun bear’s walk is often described as unique, as their four legs turn in while walking, obscuring their fairly big paws. [2]

Sun Bear (Helarctos malayanus) by David Lochlin, [CC BY 2.0], via Flickr.com

While the exact population of these bears is not currently known, their numbers are declining as a result of increase deforestation, especially for collection of coffee and rubber plantations. Because of this, The Malayan sun bear is currently designated as ‘Vulnerable’ by the IUCN Red List and there are calls to learn more about these bears and develop conservation efforts. [3]

Today we release the genome assembly for the Malayan sun bear. This is a $1K genome assembly that has a contig n50 = 74 KB and a scaffold n50 = 60 MB (see Dudchenko et al., 2018 for procedure details). We thank the San Antonio Zoo for providing the sample used for this assembly!

This is the 4th member of the Ursidae family we've released on the DNAZoo blog! Check out these assembly pages for the American black bear, grizzly bear, and the polar bear.


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