Small water samples can find very large animals


Newswise – A team of scientists has used an emerging genetic tool that analyzes DNA in water samples to detect whales and dolphins in New York waters.

Called environmental DNA or eDNA, the technique looks for traces of genetic material left behind by wildlife.

Scientists from California State University, CUNY, the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Columbia University published their findings in the journal Borders.

The scientists say eDNA can be used to complement other methods of locating whales and dolphins such as visual sightings and acoustic monitoring, and their eDNA detections are among the most promising to date for detecting whales and dolphins. whales and dolphins in sea water in open sea.

According to the study’s lead author, Dr. Elizabeth Alter of California State University, “Determining how cetaceans and other threatened marine animals use coastal habitats is critical to their effective conservation. By generating eDNA data in parallel with survey data, it will be possible to better understand how this tool can be used in management and conservation contexts to monitor species of conservation concern in large marine ecosystems.

In addition to finding whales and dolphins, the technique detected baitfish present in the prey area of ​​the whales and dolphins. The authors say the technique could eventually be used to identify individual animals.

Said Dr. Howard C. Rosenbaum, WCS Ocean Giants Program Director/Senior Scientist New York Aquarium and a co-author of the study: “The innovation and application of new techniques, such as the possibility of using eDNA, which allow to have better information on the distribution of whales, dolphins and of their prey are so important today, especially where potential impacts in these habitats may increase human activities.

The authors say eDNA drops to lower levels over time and more research is needed to better understand how factors such as behavior and oceanographic conditions contribute to the longevity of eDNA signals.

Although there are signs of promising recovery for many species and populations of whales, whales continue to face a range of modern threats from ship strikes, entanglement in nets, noise from the ocean.

The Biden-Harris administration, New York State and other East Coast states are ramping up massive renewable energy projects to meet energy demand and help fight climate change, including a wind power auction for over 488,000 acres in the New York Bight. There are many potential impacts of these developments on whales that the environmental community, industry, and state/federal authorities aim to address. WCS was involved state and national level dialogues and the development of best practice guidance through IUCN.

The use of emerging and new techniques such as eDNA, as demonstrated by the results of the ongoing study in the NY Bight and other approaches, can offer new insights into the presence of whales and their prey in and around the rental areas as the offshore wind increases along the east. rating. More broadly, WCS is increasingly using eDNA in its conservation work, detecting critically endangered wildlife such as Swinhoe’s Softshell Turtlein the Bolivian Amazon and in some of the world’s most rugged regions, including Mount Everest.

To learn more about WCS’s work to protect whales in New York waters, visit


WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society)

MISSION: WCS saves wildlife and wild places around the world through science, conservation action, education, and inspiring people to value nature. To accomplish our mission, WCS, based at the Bronx Zoo, harnesses the power of its global conservation program in nearly 60 countries and in every ocean of the world and its five wildlife parks in New York City, visited by 4 million people each year. WCS combines its expertise in the field, zoos and aquarium to achieve its conservation mission. To visit: Follow: @WCSNewsroom. For more information: 347-840-1242.


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