Despite no obvious barrier to gene flow, historical environmental processes and ecological specializations can lead to genetic differentiation in highly mobile animals. Ecotypes emerged in several large mammal species as a result of niche specializations and/or social organization. In the North-West Atlantic, two distinct bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) ecotypes (i.e. 'coastal' and 'pelagic') have been identified. Here, we investigated the genetic population structure of North-East Atlantic (NEA) bottlenose dolphins on a large scale through the analysis of 381 biopsy-sampled or stranded animals using 25 microsatellites and a 682-bp portion of the mitochondrial control region. We shed light on the likely origin of stranded animals using a carcass drift prediction model. We showed, for the first time, that coastal and pelagic bottlenose dolphins were highly differentiated in the NEA. Finer-scale population structure was found within the two groups. We suggest that distinct founding events followed by parallel adaptation may have occurred independently from a large Atlantic pelagic population in the two sides of the basin. Divergence could be maintained by philopatry possibly as a result of foraging specializations and social organization. As coastal environments are under increasing anthropogenic pressures, small and isolated populations might be at risk and require appropriate conservation policies to preserve their habitats. While genetics can be a powerful first step to delineate ecotypes in protected and difficult to access taxa, ecotype distinction should be further documented through diet studies and the examination of cranial skull features associated with feeding.
The temperate waters of the North-Eastern Atlantic have a long history of maritime resource richness and, as a result, the European Union is endeavouring to maintain regional productivity and biodiversity. At the intersection of these aims lies potential conflict, signalling the need for integrated, cross-border management approaches. This paper focuses on the marine megafauna of the region. This guild of consumers was formerly abundant, but is now depleted and protected under various national and international legislative structures. We present a meta-analysis of available megafauna datasets using presence-only distribution models to characterise suitable habitat and identify spatially-important regions within the English Channel and southern bight of the North Sea. The integration of studies from dedicated and opportunistic observer programmes in the United Kingdom and France provide a valuable perspective on the spatial and seasonal distribution of various taxonomic groups, including large pelagic fishes and sharks, marine mammals, seabirds and marine turtles. The Western English Channel emerged as a hotspot of biodiversity for megafauna, while species richness was low in the Eastern English Channel. Spatial conservation planning is complicated by the highly mobile nature of marine megafauna, however they are important components of the marine environment and understanding their distribution is a first crucial step toward their inclusion into marine ecosystem management.
Thirty alternative flame retardant compounds and a suite of 17 brominated diphenyl ether (BDE) congeners were determined in the blubber of 21 harbour porpoises stranded or bycaught around UK coasts during 2008 using GC-MS/MS. Of the 30 compounds, 19 were not detected. Of the remaining 11 compounds, some fell below the lowest calibration level and so were recorded as less than values, but were certainly present in the blubber samples (examples include tetrabromo-p-xylene (TBX), tetrabromo-o-chlorotoluene (TBCT) and 2,3-dibromopropyl-2,4,6-tribromophenyl ether (TBP-DBPE). Concentrations were low, the highest concentration being only 35?gkg(-1) wet weight. This contrasted with those of the BDEs, summed concentrations which ranged from 54.6 to 913?gkg(-1) wet weight, although levels in porpoise blubber have been declining since 1998. Both Dechlorane Plus (DDC-CO) isomers were detected in some samples, suggesting either that this product has been used in the UK or that its presence may result from atmospheric transport from source regions. BDE183, a marker for the octa-mix PBDE product, was found at low concentrations (0.63 to 1.7?gkg(-1) wet weight) and the four nona- and deca-BDE congeners were not detected in any sample.
On 9 June 2008, the UKs largest mass stranding event (MSE) of short-beaked common dolphins (Delphinus delphis) occurred in Falmouth Bay, Cornwall. At least 26 dolphins died, and a similar number was refloated/herded back to sea. On necropsy, all dolphins were in good nutritive status with empty stomachs and no evidence of known infectious disease or acute physical injury. Auditory tissues were grossly normal (26/26) but had microscopic haemorrhages (5/5) and mild otitis media (1/5) in the freshest cases. Five lactating adult dolphins, one immature male, and one immature female tested were free of harmful algal toxins and had low chemical pollutant levels. Pathological evidence of mud/seawater inhalation (11/26), local tide cycle, and the relative lack of renal myoglobinuria (26/26) suggested MSE onset on a rising tide between 06:30 and 08?21 hrs (9 June). Potential causes excluded or considered highly unlikely included infectious disease, gas/fat embolism, boat strike, by-catch, predator attack, foraging unusually close to shore, chemical or algal toxin exposure, abnormal weather/climatic conditions, and high-intensity acoustic inputs from seismic airgun arrays or natural sources (e.g., earthquakes). International naval exercises did occur in close proximity to the MSE with the most intense part of the exercises (including mid-frequency sonars) occurring four days before the MSE and resuming with helicopter exercises on the morning of the MSE. The MSE may therefore have been a "two-stage process" where a group of normally pelagic dolphins entered Falmouth Bay and, after 3-4 days in/around the Bay, a second acoustic/disturbance event occurred causing them to strand en masse. This spatial and temporal association with the MSE, previous associations between naval activities and cetacean MSEs, and an absence of other identifiable factors known to cause cetacean MSEs, indicates naval activity to be the most probable cause of the Falmouth Bay MSE.
Sea turtles (Chelonoidea) are a charismatic group of marine reptiles that occupy a range of important ecological roles. However, the diversity and evolution of their feeding anatomy remain incompletely known.
The associations between polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) exposure and involution of lymphoid tissue and development of epithelial-lined cysts in the thymus of UK-stranded harbour porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) (n=170) were tested. Percentage of thymic lymphoid tissue (%TLT) was histologically quantified. Multiple regression analyses (n=169) demonstrated significant positive correlation between %TLT and nutritional status (p<0.001) and significant negative association between %TLT and onset of sexual maturity (p<0.001). However, in a subgroup of porpoises with total PCB levels above a proposed threshold of toxicity (>17mg/kg lipid weight) (n=109), the negative association between %TLT (as dependent variable) and summed blubber concentrations of 25 chlorobiphenyl congeners (?25CBs) remained significant (p<0.01) along with nutritional status (p<0.001) and onset of sexual maturity (p<0.001). These results suggest PCB-induced immuno suppression may be occurring in harbour porpoises in UK waters but only at concentrations that exceed proposed toxicity thresholds for marine mammals. In contrast, development of thymic cysts appears predominantly age-related.
Liver butyltin concentrations (monobutyl, dibutyl and tributyltin (TBT)) in harbour porpoises (n=410) have been determined during 1992-2005, and again in 2009 following a ban on the use of tributyltin-based antifouling paints on ships. The aim was to assess the effectiveness of the regulation, which was implemented during 2003-2008. Since the ban was put in place summed butyltin concentrations have declined. Also, the percentage of animals in which TBT was detected has fallen sharply, indicating the cessation of fresh inputs. In 1992, 1993 and 1995, TBT was detected in 100% of samples analysed. In 2003-2005, once the implementation of the ban had begun, this fell to 61-72%, and in 2009, following the completion of the ban, had reduced to 4.3% (i.e. in only 1 of 23 samples analysed). Thus we conclude that the ban has proved effective in reducing TBT inputs to the seas from vessels.
Since 1990, tissue samples from UK-stranded and -bycaught cetaceans have been available for study of contaminant burdens. These have been used to study spatial and temporal trends in concentrations in UK waters, and to investigate potential associations between contaminants and health status. We describe the current status of cetaceans (primarily harbour porpoises, Phocoena phocoena) in UK waters in relation to pollution. Concentrations of BDEs, HBCD, and the organochlorine pesticides are declining. In contrast, concentrations of CBs have plateaued following earlier reductions due to regulation of use, and further reductions are likely to take decades. Blubber PCB concentrations are still at toxicologically significant levels in many harbour porpoises and regularly occur at even higher levels in bottlenose dolphins and killer whales due to their higher trophic level in marine food chains. Further reductions in PCB inputs into the marine environment are needed to mitigate risk from PCB exposure in these species.
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