HCNSO Student Theses and Dissertations

Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

M.S. Marine Biology


Oceanographic Center

First Advisor

Mahmood Shivji

Second Advisor

George Duncan

Third Advisor

Jose V. Lopez


The basking shark, Cetorhinus maximus, has historically been a target of international fisheries, leading to well-documented declines in parts of its global distribution. Currently, the basking shark is listed as globally ‘Vulnerable’ and regionally ‘Endangered’ (North Pacific and Northeast Atlantic) on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, rendering the species an international conservation priority. Here, we assessed the global matrilineal genetic population structure and evolutionary history of the basking shark by completing the first whole mitochondrial genome sequence level survey of animals sampled from three globally widespread geographic regions: the western North Atlantic (n = 11), the eastern North Atlantic (n = 11), and within New Zealand territorial waters (n = 12). Despite the relatively large amount of sequence data assessed (~16,669 bp per individual), whole mitogenome analyses showed no evidence of population differentiation (ΦST = -0.047, P > 0.05) and very low nucleotide diversity (π = 0.0014 ± 0.000) across a global seascape. The absence of population structure across large distances and even between ocean basins is indicative of long-dispersal by this species, including an ability to cross known biogeographic barriers known to differentiate populations of other highly vagile pelagic fishes. Notably, evolutionary analyses of the mitogenome sequences revealed two globally sympatric but evolutionary divergent lineages, with a Bayesian framework estimated coalescence time of ~2.46 million years ago. Coalescent-based Bayesian skyline analysis uncovered subtle evidence of Pleistocene demographic flux for this species, including a potential decline in female effective population size. Thus, historical population changes may be responsible for the occurrence of the two highly divergent, yet sympatric lineages, as population declines may have resulted in the loss of intermediate haplotypes and resulted in an overall loss of genetic diversity. This work supports the recognition of basking sharks as a single matrilineal global population, and as such requires the application of a cooperative multiagency and international approach to fisheries management to conserve this highly vulnerable and ecologically unique species.

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