The gray whale, Eschrichtius robustus, is a member of the baleen whale family. Their name comes from their mottled skin with gray and white patches, due to being covered in barnacles, whale lice, and other parasites. (Actually barnacles may have a mutualistic relationship with their host whales, providing protection from attack from killer whales .) Female gray whales are usually larger than males, reaching sizes of approximately 14.9 meters, and weighing up to 41 tonnes .
Gray whales have the longest annual migration of any mammal, making 10,000-12,000-mile round trips around the North Pacific Ocean. During their migration, gray whales stick close to the shores, preferring shallower waters . Their close proximity to land and their natural curiosity cause them to be frequently spotted by whale watching tours.
Once at the brink of extinction in the early 1800’s, conservation efforts and hunting bans have allowed the eastern population of gray whales to return to pre-whaling levels! In 1994, gray whales were officially removed from the endangered species list, though the Western North Pacific population is still endangered . All gray whales are still protected under the MMPA! As whales play a large role in the oceans’ ecosystems, preserving the gray whale species will have boundless effects on other marine life.
Today we share the chromosome length assembly of the gray whale, with contig N50 = 67Kb and scaffold N50 = 103 Mb. This is another $1K genome assembly, for procedure details, see Dudchenko et al., 2018. This is the third baleen whale (Mysticeti) in our collection so don’t forget to check out Bryde's whale and the North Atlantic right whale as well!
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 specimen used in this study was collected by Pam Tuomi (Alaska Sealife Center) from Girdwood, Alaska and provided by the National Marine Mammal Tissue Bank, which is maintained by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in the NIST Biorepository, and 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.
Post by: Ruqayya Khan and Ben Neely