To the amazement of scientists, a grey whale (Eschrichtius robustus) has been spotted off the coast of Barcelona, after being tracked from Palestine/Israel. North Atlantic-Mediterranean populations were understood to have become extinct in the 18th century, and there have no sightings since. The most likely expllanation is that the animal is a Pacific grey whale that has become lost. If it does form part of a new Atlantic population that would indeed be news. El País and BBC
BBC documentary of killer whales off the coast of Cadiz attracted by huge tuna captured by the almadraba fishing technique.
From The Natural World – Wild In Spain. Unfortunately it features Micheal Portillo.
The almadraba is an elaborate and age-old Andalusian technique of setting nets in a maze that leads to a central pool called “copo”. The maze uses just two net lines, called “raveras”. One net is connected to the shore and other line is secured in deeper water. Those lines have smaller oblique lines which leads to the central pool. Tunas are not able to see the exit from the central pool and remain inside. This simple maze works because tuna tend to go into the Mediterranean during spring and the beginning of summer. The floor of the central pool is raised in order to catch the tunas and when that floor is up, there is little room for tunas and they are then caught easily and slaughtered. Wikipedia
Killer whales (Orcinus orca) visit the Strait of Gibraltar during the tuna migration season in July and August. At the same time Spanish and Moroccan fishermen fish for yellowfin tuna, using longline fishing technics, they lower their fishing lines, armed with several hooks, vertically to the sea bottom. This fishing procedure is possible only in a limited area, where the depth of sea is only 100 metres. Killer whales, being intelligent animals, found out that it is much easier to take a tuna already caught on a fisherman’s hook, than to race with a fish in all its strength. Fishermen must often be satisfied with no more than the head of a tuna; orcas never eat the head of the fish as it contains a metal hook. This is the most dolphin safe of all methods of tuna fishery.
The killer whale population of the Strait of Gibraltar is only 12 animals (2006). There is a photo-identification catalogue of them. They are rather difficult to observe: they can only be found easily if tuna fishermen are on the sea, and the orcas hang around them. In any other instances, whale-watchers only can come across them by chance.
Some of you will have read on iberianature Dylan Walker’s excellent summary of whale watching in the Bay of Biscay. Now I’ve managed to get hold of a copy of his book (co-written with Graeme Cresswell) on whale and dolphin watching in the European Atlantic (Whales & Dolphins of the European Atlantic. This is an attractive and excellent practical guide which manages to condense in 88 pages a great deal of useful information through very clear and efficient use of text, tables, photos and images – one of the best uses of space I’ve seen in any guidebook.
The book features an introduction to cetaceans and the region covered (much of which can be accessed from the coasts of Northern Spain) and great practical tips and know-how on how to watch whales and tell them apart, something many of us know very little about. The introduction also includes sections on watching whales from ferries and boats, typical whale behaviour and the influence of sea conditions. They clearly have years of experience behind them and have decided to share this with the rest of us.
The book then moves onto the illustrated profiles of the 18 regularly occurring and 13 rare cetaceans found in the region. Each profile includes a description of behaviour, status and distribution and is illustrated by an image of the species and computer enhanced photographs annotated with useful tips on identifying the species. There is also a colour distribution map accompanied by a monthly frequency bar chart, and an original image depicting the species side on in the water helpfully including a gannet for scale. The book also includes articles on identifying Mesoploden beaked whales (the toughest challenge of them all) and rare species, and finishes with a glossary. I also liked the handy size and the plastic cover reminding us that this is a practical guide and tempting us to get out on a boat and use it on a blustery day somewhere in the Atlantic.
On a final note, the book is published by WILDguides. This is a non-profit publisher which gives all of its profits to conservation organisations that work on the area or organisms treated by each guide.
Just how rich the Bay is for cetaceans can be assessed with a quick number crunching session of the ORCA database. This database includes over 50,000 km of survey effort from volunteers working aboard both ferries between February and November 1996 – 2008. During the period 1996-2004, for example, cetaceans were encountered on 3,429 occasions involving 15,725 individuals of 21 species. This equates to an average of one encounter every 44 minutes of ferry cruising – a very high return for any whale watcher! Read
Remarkable news. A diver from Palma claims to have seen (and taken photo above) a possible monk seal (foca monje – Monachus monachus)in the marine reserve of Isla del Toro. The monk seal is considered to be extinct is the Balearic Islands (where it was known popularly as the vell marí – old man of the sea) since the late 1950s, and is among the ten most endangered mammals in the world, with colonies divided between Mauritania and the Eastern Mediterranean, the former being far the stronger. If true, I imagine we are talking about an animal in dispersion or just plain lost. The Balearic government periodically considers the possibility of attempting to reintroduce the animal. Whether it would fare well in an area of sea so popular with pleasure craft is another question. See more in El País
Update: this version of the story from Libertad Balear is much better researched.
Caribbean Monk Seal Gone Extinct From Human CausesJun. 9, 2008) — After a five year review, NOAA’s Fisheries Service has determined that the Caribbean monk seal, which has not been seen for more than 50 years, has gone extinct — the first type of seal to go extinct from human causes.
40 eggs of loggerhead turtles (tortuga boba – Caretta caretta) hatched last week on a beach in Cabo de Gata, Almeria. Another 40 are expected to hatch these days. The eggs came from Cabo Verde and form part of a reintroduction programme of the Junta de Andalucía and CSIC. The aim is for the same turtles to return to lay their eggs on the same beach, though the high mortality of the species means that very few if any of these young hatched in Almeria will reach adulthood.1000 eggs were taken from Cabo Verde, where a third of the world’s population lives. 800 were left in the Canary Islands and 200 were brought to Andalucia. 120 have been raised in incubators in Sevilla. Small populations of loggerhead turtle in the Mediterranean exist in the Turkey and Greece.
Experts are on the alert to a possible dolphin epidemic after numerous dolphins have been found dead on the coast of Valencia. In the last two months 29 striped dolphins(delfín listado – Stenella coeruleoalba) have been found dead with a a virus known as cetacean measles, similar to a virus which caused a high death rate among Risso’s dolphin (calderones tropicales) in the Mediterranean last winter. An epidemic decimated striped dolphin populations in the Mediterranean in the early 1990s . Experts hope that this will not occur this time. Many cetaceans in the Mediterranean have very low immunity levels due to pollution. El Mundo
It’s a worldwide phenomenon – whether bears investigating trash cans in the US, coyotes roaming New York, or boars exploring Barcelona – wildlife and human territories are increasingly overlapping. Near Vallvidrera railway station, on the outskirts of Barcelona, a mother boar availed herself of the contents of a litter bin in broad daylight. While two […]