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Genome assembled for an oceanic dolphin species

Updated: Jul 7, 2021

The Atlantic white-sided dolphin (Lagenorhynchus acutus) is just as curious and playful as the famous bottlenose dolphin and yet it is widely unknown to the public due to its preference for deep oceanic waters. When encountered, Atlantic white-sided dolphins regularly perform spectacular aerial behaviour and enjoy riding the bow-wave created by boats, giving passengers the perfect opportunity to spot their name-giving white patch that lies below their dorsal fin on both sides of their body.

Atlantic white-sided dolphin by Anna, [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Atlantic white-sided dolphins are social animals, usually existing in pods of up to 50 individuals, but sometimes they come together in their hundreds to form “super pods” where they work together to herd large shoals of fish or travel long distances. They will also not hesitate to join other cetacean species for social or feeding interactions, such as other oceanic delphinids or even large baleen whales like the fin or humpback whale [1].

Generally, these dolphins are thought to be quite abundant and are not listed as endangered by the IUCN, but there is no overall abundance estimate available for the whole species and it is virtually unknown what impact the changing environment, entanglement in fishing gear or pollution has on their populations.

Whole‑genome assemblies are an important tool for conservation scientists to help shine a light on the population structure of these charismatic but elusive dolphins. They can also enable detection of potential threats, like the ones mentioned above, by combining genetic data with metadata, eventually facilitating a more precise assessment of their overall conservation status.

Today, we release the chromosome-length genome assembly for the Atlantic white-sided dolphin. This is a $1K genome, with a scaffold n50 = 103 Mb and a contig n50 = 87 Kb. For assembly procedure details, see our Methods page.

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 for this genome assembly 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.

Check out how the chromosomes in the new assembly relate to those of the Pacific white-sided dolphin Lagenorphynchus obliquidens previously upgraded by DNA Zoo from data shared by Canada's Genomic Enterprise, and don't forget to explore the chromosome-length contact map on the assembly page!

Whole-genome alignment plot between the Pacific (ASM367639v1_HiC) and the Atlantic (Lagenorhynchus_acutus_HiC) white-sided dolphin genome assemblies.


1. Weinrich, M. T., Belt, C. R. & Morin, D. Behavior and Ecology of the Atlantic White-Sided Dolphin (Lagenorhynchus Acutus) in Coastal New England Waters. Mar. Mammal Sci. 17, 231–248 (2001).

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