Zoological Studies

Vol. 61, 2022

(update: 2022.12.20)

Molecular Identification, Fatty Acid Profile and Trace Elements in a Stranded Fin Whale in Sabah (Borneo, Malaysia): Implications on Migration Routes and Trophic Ecology of Southern Fin Whales

John Madin1,2,*, Nur Hanida Mohd Talaha1, Mohammad Tamrin Mohamad Lal1, Julian Ransangan1, Teruaki Yoshida1, and  John Barry Gallagher3

1Borneo Marine Research Institute, Universiti Malaysia Sabah, Jalan UMS, 88400, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia. *Correspondence: E-mail: jonmadin@ums.edu.my (Madin), Tel.: +60-88-320000 ext.: 2591; Fax: +60-88-320261.
E-mail: nurhanidatalaha@gmail.com (Mohd Talaha); mdtamrin@ums.edu.my (Mohamad Lal); liandra@ums.edu.my (Ransangan); teruaki.yoshida@ums.edu.my (Yoshida)
2Small Island Research Centre, Faculty of Science & Natural Resources, Universiti Malaysia Sabah, Jalan UMS, 88400, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah
3Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, University of Tasmania 20 Castray Esplanade, Battery Point TAS 7004, Australia. E-mail: johnbarry.gallagher@utas.edu.au (Gallagher)

Received 5 August 2021 / Accepted 27 September 2022
Communicated by Benny K.K. Chan

Fin whales are a cosmopolitan species found in the largest water masses of the world. In Malaysia, as well as other tropical countries in the Southeast Asian region, literature on fin whales is limited, and as a result, there is confusion regarding their distribution range in the region. This study utilizes the fresh tissue of the skin and blubber of a dead fin whale that was stranded in Sabah (Borneo, Malaysia) on the coast of the South China Sea to confirm the species identity, possible properties of the species’ diet, and any trace element contamination. The DNA profile results confirmed that the whale belonged to Balaenoptera physalus. Further investigation of its cytochrome b gene sequence indicated that it was closely related to the southern fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus quoyi). This finding indicates that fin whales indeed migrate to warm tropical waters and that their continuous global distribution spans the equatorial region. The dominant fatty acids, such as C18: 0, C16: 1, C18: 1 N9T and C16: 0 profiles, were consistent with the pelagic plankton diet that the whale would have had during its migration in the tropical waters of the South China Sea. The whales are likely pelagic feeders and thus need to be offshore, which would explain why they are rarely seen in shallow coastal areas during migration in these waters. The concentrations of K, Ca, Sc, Mg and Al ranged from 0.45 μg g-1 to 7.80 μg g-1, while Cr, Cd, As and Pb were either very low or could not be detected. This is consistent with concentrations of trace elements previously reported for other baleen whale genera from the Southern Ocean. Our study demonstrates the importance of the South China Sea as a migration route for the southern fin whale, since it is a rich food source with relatively low contaminant levels. The South China Sea is therefore well-suited to ensure these whales’ survival during migration.

Key words: Southern Hemisphere fin whale, migration routes, tropical waters, South China Sea.

Citation: Madin J, Mohd Talaha NH, Mohamad Lal MT, Ransangan J, Yoshida T, Gallagher JB. 2022. Molecular identification, fatty acid profile and trace elements in a stranded fin whale in Sabah (Borneo, Malaysia): implications on migration routes and trophic ecology of southern fin whales. Zool Stud 61:79. doi:10.6620/ZS.2022.61-79.

Supplementary materials: Table S1