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Whales Before Whaling in the North Atlantic

Science  25 Jul 2003:
Vol. 301, Issue 5632, pp. 508-510
DOI: 10.1126/science.1084524

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Abstract

It is well known that hunting dramatically reduced all baleen whale populations, yet reliable estimates of former whale abundances are elusive. Based on coalescent models for mitochondrial DNA sequence variation, the genetic diversity of North Atlantic whales suggests population sizes of approximately 240,000 humpback, 360,000 fin, and 265,000 minke whales. Estimates for fin and humpback whales are far greater than those previously calculated for prewhaling populations and 6 to 20 times higher than present-day population estimates. Such discrepancies suggest the need for a quantitative reevaluation of historical whale populations and a fundamental revision in our conception of the natural state of the oceans.

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