The project is focused on the evolutionary genetics of southern right whale (Eubalaena australis) with focus on South African population. Using modern approaches of population and landscape genetics, we aim to get information about details of population structure, the role of migration and gene flow, drift and other factors of population biology of the species and using metabarcoding analyse whale faeces to study whale diet in nursery grounds. One part of the project is focused on fitness prediction among the populations not only with the help of neutral genetic markers, but also adaptive variation, like TLR genes. The use of matrilineal and biparental markers will be used for molecular identification of every individual, also it will enable us to study the level of philopatry and areal behaviour of population. All results about the genetic structure and spatial ecology are interpreted also considering paradigms of conservation genetics.
To get samples for the DNA extraction we utilize so called citizen science and cooperate with South African whale watchers in collection of the non-invasive samples like sloughed skin or whale scat. This kind of collection also plays important role in public environmental education.
We also use mini-invasive approach – biopsies. We have a wildlife vet in the team and experienced marine biologists to consult the methodics and ensure there is no way to hurt the animal during the sampling. All the biopsy equipment has been designed especially for our project by dr. Finn Larsen, based in Technical University of Denmark.