Humpback whales were hunted to near extinction until whaling was banned in 1963. Population recovery was and continues to be slow due to long generation times and human interference. However, and interestingly, it seems that the near decimation of humpbacks did not lead to a bottleneck effect. For this AG4 project, Cantata Bio will build a haplotype-resolved (true diploid) genome assembly of a Cook Islands humpback, nicknamed Hapu. Biologists, including Giugi Carminati and others at the Center for Cetacean Research and Conservation, will then use the genome assembly as a tool to better understand genetic variation and diversity within the various humpback whale populations. The resulting genetic data will be crucial for humpback whale conservation, now and into the future. The completed reference genome will become part of Revive & Restore’s Wild Genomes collection for public access.
Humpback whales are, in part, special because they are found all over the globe. The assumption has been that humpbacks are a single homogeneous species. However, recent genetic studies have revealed that global humpback whale populations are quite different from each other and belong to several subspecies. In addition, humpback whales are also special because they have been able to “beat cancer,” which has led cancer researchers to use cetacean genomes to understand how this feat could enable improved human cancer treatments.