New Whale Species Found

Ongoing speciation or species that had been around a while undiscovered? Would that be able to be determined through genetic analysis? Just curious if anyone knows.

Really cool story. I live near the Puget Sound where orcas are having a tough time; whales are such beautiful animals, so I’m glad we’re still learning about more.


Good question. The answer is maybe.

It’s probably very difficult to determine the difference between a still-ongoing process of speciation, and one that essentially just “concluded” (in the sense that some sort of total reproductive barrier has taken effect) very recently, from genetics alone, without observing the whales behaviorally and seeing whether they are interbreeding with other known species.

What I mean is that it is technically possible that two distinct species of whales are effectively genetically indistinguishable and their populations overlap in the same geographical area, but that they have for whatever reason stopped interbreeding, in which case they would qualify as separate species under the biological species concept, and possibly have speciated by sympatric speciation.


Thanks for the response!

Maybe it’s just a complete lack of knowledge on my part, but I assumed speciation would be defined by morphological change as compared to another group in a different niche and then certain differences seen in DNA sequencing, not necessarily on inability to interbreed.

I looked that up:

Today, technology has enabled both new ways to settle the species question and ways to further the lumper/splitter debate. DNA sequencing has brought us the genetic species concept. In this model, species are defined by genetic isolation rather than reproductive isolation. Species may be more or less identical morphologically but differences in DNA determine if a population is a separate species or not. By this method, some analyses indicate that there may be thousands of additional mammals, like the additional giraffe species, hiding in plain sight. However, there are still arguments about just how much genetic variation is enough to signify a distinct species.

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Yes that’s definitely a misconception on your part. Morphological differences does of course make it much easier to tell species apart, but is not required for species to actually be distinct species.

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Nor is significant genetic difference. Divergence is an effect, not a cause, of speciation, which could occur as a result of as little as changes in a single gene. Divergence will happen eventually, but recently separated species won’t display it.

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