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Et tu, Bryde’s

Updated: Mar 14, 2022

Bryde's (pronounced BROO-dus) whales are members of the baleen whale family. They are considered one of the "great whales," a group that also includes blue whales and humpback whales. They are named for Johan Bryde, a Norwegian who built the first whaling stations in South Africa in the early 20th century. [1]

The classification of Bryde’s whales remains unclear: the Bryde’s complex is currently thought to consist of several genetically distinct populations, so chances are with more research they might get promoted to species level! [2]

Bryde’s whales are vulnerable to many stressors and threats, including vessel strikes, ocean noise, and whaling. This is particularly true of the Gulf of Mexico Bryde’s whale subspecies (Balaenoptera edeni (GOMx subspecies)), also threatened by oil and gas activities, as well as oil spills and cleanup. Scientists believe that there are fewer than 100 GoM Bryde’s whales, making it one of the most endangered whales in the world!  [3, 4]

To help with ongoing research and conservation efforts, today we share a chromosome-length genome assembly generated from a Bryde’s whale sample collected in the Gulf of Mexico. 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 NMFS Panama City Lab/Lydia Staggs 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.

Gulf of Mexico Bryde's whales are special to the Gulf of Mexico; they are not found anywhere else in the world. We don’t know a lot about them, but we do know they are the only year-round baleen whales that make their home in the Gulf. We hope that the new assembly will help with the ongoing efforts to explore genetic variation within the Bryde’s whale complex, improve our understanding of this enigmatic creature, while also providing the foundation for future bioanalytical techniques such as eDNA research!

This genome assembly was done de novo following the $1K workflow from (Dudchenko et al., 2018). Check out below the growing body of whole-genome alignments to see how the chromosomes from the new assembly relate to those of other cetaceans in the DNA Zoo collection: the beluga whale, the Pacific white-sided dolphin, the orca, the Indo-pacific dolphin and the bottlenose dolphin!

Whole-genome alignment plots between the new Bryde’s whale (Balaenoptera_edeni_HiC) genome assembly and other cetacean chromosome-length genome assemblies at the DNA Zoo: Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin (ASM322739v1_HiC), orca (Oorc_1.1_HiC), Atlantic bottlenose dolphin (NIST_Tur_tru_v1_HiC), Pacific white-sided dolphin (ASM367639v1_HiC) and the beluga whale (ASM228892v2_HiC).

UPD: In 2021, the Gulf of Mexico Bryde's whales have been identified as distinct species, Balaenoptera ricei. The assembly page has been correspondingly renamed and is now available at Read more about rice's whales on NOAA Fisheries website.

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