ScienceShot: Right Whales, Finally Coming Home

After more than 100 years, right whales have returned to their calving grounds in New Zealand, scientists report. The 100-ton whales, known for their social frolicking and impressive acrobatic displays, were hunted to extinction in these same waters during the 19th and 20th centuries' era of industrial whaling. A small population managed to survive near remote, sub-Antarctic islands south of New Zealand. In recent years, a few dozen females found their way back to the same bays their ancestors used for bearing their young. Normally, such cultural knowledge is passed from mother-to-daughter, the researchers say. But the tradition had been lost, until these pioneering females began making the journeys once again. Reporting today in Marine Ecology Progress Series, the scientists confirmed that some of the females had migrated from the southern islands to New Zealand by comparing the DNA in tissue samples collected from seven whales at both sites. Now that the tradition has been restored, scientists expect more whales to follow the pioneers.

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