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Research Document - 2012/074

Beluga whales in James Bay: a separate entity from eastern Hudson Bay belugas?

By L.D. Postma, S.D. Petersen, J. Turgeon, M.O. Hammill, V. Lesage, and T. Doniol-Valcroze

Abstract

Satellite telemetry and genetic analyses of mitochondrial DNA sequences and nuclear DNA microsatellites were used to determine if the beluga whales found in James Bay remain in the bay for the winter and if these whales comprise a distinct summer stock and breeding population. Over three years of tagging (2007-2009), 12 tagged whales showed no movement out of James Bay during the winter. Population genetic analyses of these whales, along with other samples from James Bay and compared to adjacent locations in western Hudson Bay, eastern Hudson Bay and the Belcher Islands, confirmed that belugas in James Bay form a distinct stock from other management stocks in Hudson Bay. However, the beluga whales in James Bay were weakly differentiated (possibly due to a high degree of admixture) from whales in all the other locations and they were significantly more related to each other than belugas in other locations. These results suggest the presence of a local breeding population that has recently diverged, mixes to some extent with groups of whales in other areas, and/or are being hunted at the edge of their range by hunters from Sanikiluaq and east Hudson Bay. Based on the combination of all the information from this study, James Bay should be considered a separate stock for surveys, population estimates and management of the EHB stock.

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