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A comparison of pigmentation features among North Atlantic killer whale (Orcinus orca) populations

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  29 April 2014

Pirjo Mäkeläinen*
University of Helsinki, Aquatic Sciences, Hydrobiology, Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences, Helsinki, Finland
Ruth Esteban
CIRCE, Conservation Information and Research on Cetaceans, C/Cabeza de Manzaneda 3, Algeciras-Pelayo, 11390 Cadiz, Spain
Andrew D. Foote
Centre for GeoGenetics, Natural History Museum of Denmark, University of Copenhagen, Øster Volgade 5-7, DK-1350 Copenhagen, Denmark
Sanna Kuningas
Sea Mammal Research Unit, Scottish Oceans Institute, University of St Andrews, St Andrews, Fife, KY16 9TS, UK
Julius Nielsen
DTU Aqua, Jægersborg Allé 1, 2920 Charlottenlund, Denmark
Filipa I.P. Samarra
Sea Mammal Research Unit, Scottish Oceans Institute, University of St Andrews, St Andrews, Fife, KY16 9TS, UK Marine Research Institute, Skulagata 4, PO Box 1390, 121 Reykjavík, Iceland
Tiu Similä
Wild Idea, Box 181, 8465 Straumsjøen, Norway
Nienke C.F. van Geel
Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust, 28 Main Street, Tobermory, Isle of Mull, PA75 6NU, UK
Gíslia A. Víkingsson
Marine Research Institute, Skulagata 4, PO Box 1390, 121 Reykjavík, Iceland
Correspondence should be addressed to: P. Mäkeläinen, Seulastentie 12 C, 00740 Helsinki, Finland email:


Here we present a comparison of saddle and eye patch patterns of killer whales from Norwegian, Icelandic, British, Spanish and Greenlandic waters. We found only a small amount of variation in saddle patch shapes, which may reflect a recent phylogenetic divergence from the most recent common ancestor. Eye patch shapes were more variable than saddle patches in small details. Most individuals had eye patches with parallel orientation, with the exception of a small group of killer whales from the Hebrides, which, as previously reported, had sloping eye patches that sloped downward at the posterior end. This differentiation in pigmentation patterns of the Hebridean killer whales from neighbouring populations could reflect one or more of several evolutionary processes, including a deeper phylogenetic divergence, low gene flow with other local populations and drift.

Research Article
Copyright © Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom 2014 

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