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The right whale to save

Today, we release the genome of one of the most endangered whale species, the North Atlantic right whale Eubalaena glacialis.

The North Atlantic right whale is a large baleen whale historically found near the coast of the western and eastern North Atlantic [1]. They can reach roughly 52 feet (16 m) long and 70 tons (60,000 kg), and may still be seen from the Labrador Sea to the coast of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida [2]. They are readily distinguished from other cetaceans by the absence of a dorsal fin on their broad back.

Their name is derived from being the "right" whale for whalers to easily harvest. Hundreds of years of whaling along with continued human interaction has reduced the population to less than 400 whales, making the North Atlantic right whale one of the world’s most endangered large whale species. It is one of four marine mammals in NOAA's Species in the Spotlight, with more information here and here. We hope that this genome can help ongoing research efforts and highlight the plight of this species.

This is the second baleen whale (Mysticeti) genome in the DNA Zoo collection after the Bryde’s whale Balaenoptera edeni. See below the whole-genome alignment plots to see how karyotypes of the two species (2n=44 for the Bryde’s whale and 2n=42 for the NA right whale) relate to each other. Both genome were generated following the $1K strategy described in (Dudchenko et al., 2018).

Whole-genome alignment plots between the genome assemblies of the North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena_glacialis_HiC) and the Bryde’s whale (Balaenoptera_edeni_HiC). The genomes are highly syntenic with chromosome #20 in the right whale corresponding to two separate chromosomes in the Bryde’s whale (#18 and #16).

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 NOAA (T. Rowles and B. Bonde) from Amelia Island, Florida, USA. 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.

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