eDNA Collected in Harbor Porpoise Fluke Prints

July 26, 2016 Posted by: Marilyn Dahlheim
researchers in red inflatable boat
Between 3--14 July 2016, researchers from the National Marine Fisheries Service/Marine Mammal Laboratory conducted harbor porpoise research in the inside waters of Southeast Alaska. The main objective was to collect genetic material to assess harbor porpoise "stock structure". The Marine Mammal Protection Act defines a stock as "a group of marine mammals of the same species or smaller taxa in a common spatial arrangement that interbreed when mature." Two areas of porpoise concentrations have persisted throughout our long-term studies (1991 through 2016). These include the waters of both Glacier Bay/Icy Strait and the waters surrounding Wrangell/Zarembo Islands and Sumner Strait. 

harbor porpoise

In 2015, we conducted a pilot project to evaluate whether or not we could obtain genetic material from harbor porpoise fluke prints (i.e. water samples). This "environmental DNA" (eDNA) method proved successful and porpoise DNA was collected. Given the success of this pilot project, we opted to continue this research. During July 2016, we obtained 22 porpoise water samples from the Wrangell/Zarembo Islands area and 33 samples from the Icy Strait area. These samples will be analyzed with the hope of understanding gene flow between harbor porpoises within Southeast Alaska and beyond. 

four porpoise porpoising
Another porpoise survey is planned for September 2016.  For more information, please contact Dr. Marilyn Dahlheim (marilyn.dahlheim@noaa.gov) at 206/526-4020.  

3 Comments Comments icon

  1. July 30, 2016 at 08:45

    In my experience seeing HAPOs in the Hood Canal area, they pop up for only a microsecond, and usually only once. So in addition to patience, this must take a lot of skill and technique learning. Sounds both frustrating and fun!

  2. July 27, 2016 at 01:13

    We are collecting 2 liters of water from harbor porpoise fluke prints from a same size sampling bag with only one scoop per fluke print. Last year we collected three samples per fluke print. Analysis indicated that by the third sample, DNA material was reduced. Collections need to be done in the fluke print as soon as possible. Water is filtered immediately and the filter paper is stored at room temperature in a dark areas. Analysis can be done a few months later. Our objective is to define stock structure of harbor porpoise in the inland waters of SE Alaska. Harbor porpoise are difficult to work with given their "shy" behavior. It takes lots of patience when conducting research on this species. Most importantly - we are still in the developmental stage of this project. The collections already obtained in July 2016 will assist us in developing proper methods for both the collection and analysis of EDNA research.

  3. July 27, 2016 at 08:43

    Amazing!! What size are the water samples taken? How quickly must samples be collected after dolphins pass by? How durable are these samples--do they have to be analyzed in a short time after collection? How will the information gathered here be used?

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Last updated: July 26, 2016

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