Genetic analysis of nearly 400 right whales from around the world indicates there may be a new, third branch on this mammal's family tree.
Scientists had agreed on two species of right whale: the northern and the southern. The endangered northern species has Atlantic and Pacific populations.
A new statistical analysis of DNA from almost all known right whale communities indicates the two northern populations may constitute distinct species. Even more surprising, the researchers say, the North Pacific animals bear a closer genetic resemblance to southern right whales than to their North Atlantic counterparts. These findings, which could add urgency to right whale conservation, appear in the November Molecular Ecology.