[MARMAM] New Publication: Ancestry testing of ‘Old Tom’, a killer whale central to mutualistic interactions with human whalers

Isabella Reeves isabella.reeves at flinders.edu.au
Wed Oct 11 13:01:12 PDT 2023

Hi all,

On behalf of all co-authors, I am pleased to announce the publication of our manuscript titled "Ancestry testing of ‘Old Tom’, a killer whale central to mutualistic interactions with human whalers " in the Journal of Heredity.

Cooperative hunting between humans and killer whales (Orcinus orca) targeting baleen whales was reported in Eden, New South Whales, Australia, for almost a century. By 1928, whaling operations had ceased, and local killer whale sightings became scarce. A killer whale from the group, known as ‘Old Tom’, washed up dead in 1930 and his skeleton was preserved. How these killer whales from Eden relate to other populations globally and whether their genetic descendants persist today remains unknown. We extracted and sequenced DNA from Old Tom using ancient DNA techniques. Genomic sequences were then compared to a global dataset of mitochondrial and nuclear genomes. Old Tom shared a most recent common ancestor with killer whales from Australasia, the North Atlantic, and the North Pacific, having the highest genetic similarity with contemporary New Zealand killer whales. However, much of the variation found in Old Tom’s genome was not shared with these widespread populations, suggesting ancestral rather than ongoing gene flow. Our genetic comparisons also failed to find any clear descendants of Tom, raising the possibility of local extinction of this group. We integrated Traditional Custodian knowledge to recapture the events in Eden and recognize that Indigenous Australians initiated the relationship with the killer whales before European colonization and the advent of commercial whaling locally. This study rectifies discrepancies in local records and provides new insight into the origins of the killer whales in Eden and the history of Australasian killer whales.

For details please see,
https://academic.oup.com/jhered/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jhered/esad058/7308443, it is open access.

Kind regards,


Isabella Reeves (she/her)

PhD Candidate

BSc Marine Biology (Hons.)

Cetacean Research Centre, WA

Southern Shark Ecology Group

College of Science & Engineering, Flinders University

Email<mailto:isabella.reeves at flinders.edu.au>  | Twitter<https://twitter.com/bellaa_reeves> | LinkedIn<https://www.linkedin.com/in/isabella-reeves-60142b175/>


I acknowledge the Kaurna people, the Traditional Custodians of the land I am fortunate to live on. I pay respect to elders past, present and emerging, and recognise the continuing connection to and, water, culture and community of First Nations people here and across Australia.

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