Mol. Biol. Evol. 39 (5) - [2022-05-03; online 2022-05-06]
It is generally recognized that large-scale whaling in the 19th and 20th century led to a substantial reduction of the size of many cetacean populations, particularly those of the baleen whales (Mysticeti). The impact of these operations on genomic diversity of one of the most hunted whales, the fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus), has remained largely unaddressed because of the paucity of adequate samples and the limitation of applicable techniques. Here, we have examined the effect of whaling on the North Atlantic fin whale based on genomes of 51 individuals from Icelandic waters, representing three temporally separated intervals, 1989, 2009 and 2018 and provide a reference genome for the species. Demographic models suggest a noticeable drop of the effective population size of the North Atlantic fin whale around a century ago. The present results suggest that the genome-wide heterozygosity is not markedly reduced and has remained comparable with other baleen whale species. Similarly, there are no signs of apparent inbreeding, as measured by the proportion of long runs of homozygosity, or of a distinctively increased mutational load, as measured by the amount of putative deleterious mutations. Compared with other baleen whales, the North Atlantic fin whale appears to be less affected by anthropogenic influences than other whales such as the North Atlantic right whale, consistent with the presence of long runs of homozygosity and higher levels of mutational load in an otherwise more heterozygous genome. Thus, genome-wide assessments of other species and populations are essential for future, more specific, conservation efforts.