Can you tell a pygmy blue whale from an Antarctic blue whale? If not, you aren’t alone. Marine biologists have had trouble distinguishing these enormous mammals with mottled skin patterns ever since they began studying them—and that has complicated efforts to figure out where they breed and how to best protect them. Now, researchers have caught a break thanks to a pygmy whale named Isabela. Researchers first photographed the whale and collected her DNA in 1998 in the waters off the Galapagos Islands. Then, in 2006, another team photographed and collected samples from a similar looking whale off Chile (both photos above). Now, in a study published online before print in Marine Mammal Science, scientists compared those samples and photographs, and discovered that they both belonged to the same whale. That means Isabela (named after the lead author’s daughter to represent hope for future preservation efforts) migrated a minimum of 5200 km, the longest recorded latitudinal migration made by any Southern Hemisphere blue whale on record. The findings suggest Chile's and the Galapagos’ blue whale aggregations are connected, meaning those feeding in the Gulf of Corcovado off Chile may be breeding in the Tropical Eastern Pacific. Knowing where this species migrates—including its feeding and breeding grounds—can help conservationists and governments better establish marine protected areas, the team says.
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