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Assessing long range movements of Mediterranean Sperm whales through photo-identification

Authors:
  • Conservación, Información y Estudio sobre Cetáceos ; Tethys Institute
  • Madeira Whale Museum
  • Conservación, Información y Estudio sobre Cetáceos
  • Madeira Whale Museum

Abstract

The Mediterranean sperm whales qualify as “Endangered” according to the IUCN Red List criteria. Although the species is widely distributed, information about movement patterns within the Mediterranean Sea and through the Strait of Gibraltar is scant. To provide insight on long-range movements, photo-identification catalogues from different regions of the Mediterranean Sea and North Atlantic Ocean were compared. Specifically, CIRCE's photo-identification catalogue (Strait of Gibraltar, 1999-2010), containing 46 individuals, was compared with the North Atlantic and Mediterranean Sperm Whale Catalogue (NAMSC, produced by IFAW, 1994-2004), the Tethys Research Institute catalogue (western Ligurian Sea, 2004-2008) and the Alnitak Marine Research Center catalogue (Alboran Sea, 2006-2008). None of CIRCE's 46 sperm whales was resighted in Atlantic waters nor in the eastern Mediterranean basin, while six (14%) were sighted in the Alboran Sea and others six (14%) in the western Ligurian Sea. These results evidence long-range movements of the species throughout the whole western Mediterranean Sea, with a straight-line distance of about 1500 km. Moreover, absence of any photographic recaptures between the Mediterranean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, support the existence of a genetically isolated sub-population within the Mediterranean. Given the lack of baseline information on species abundance, distribution and population trends for the Basin, describing movement patterns and possible migratory routes is essential to develop and implement proper conservation measures. For a highly nomadic species, which spreads across international boundaries, creating integrated basin-wide monitoring programmes and networks of MPAs would be key.
Assessing long-range movements of
Mediterranean Sperm whale trough
photo-identification
INTRODUCTION
Genetic analysis of sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus) suggest the presence of a Mediterranean subpopulation (Engelhaupt et al. 2009,
Drouot et al. 2004). Since 2006 this subpopulation has been considered as “Endangered” according to the IUCN Red List criteria. The aim of
this study was to investigate by photo-identification techniques, the longrange movements of sperm whales in the Mediterranean Sea and
contiguous Atlantic waters.
RESULTS
Out of CIRCE’s 47 sperm whales from the Strait of Gibraltar, a total of 12 (26 %) individuals were resighted in the western Mediterranean Sea,
4 in the Alboran Sea (maximum straight-line of about 400 km, Figure 2), 6 in the Ligurian Sea (maximum straight-line of about 1600 km,
Figure 3) and 2 other individuals in both areas (Figure 1 and 4). Overall, sperm whales travelled from the Ligurian Sea to southern Spain
(n=5) or in the opposite direction (n=3). In the Spanish part, 2 sperm whales were first seen in the Strait of Gibraltar and then in the Alboran
Sea while the other 2 travelled westwards. No individual was resighted in Atlantic waters or in the eastern Mediterranean basin.
DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION
These results show long-range bidirectional movements of sperm whales throughout the whole western Mediterranean Sea between two
important feeding areas, the Strait of Gibraltar and the Ligurian Sea. Moreover the absence of any photographic recaptures between the
Mediterranean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, supports the existence of a genetically isolated sub-population (Engelhaupt et al. 2009,
Drouot et al. 2004). These results confirm that photo-identification is an effective non invasive technique to monitor cetacean movements.
Therefore, cooperative research programs involving several Mediterranean countries and data sharing between institutions should be
encouraged to provide baseline information necessary for the implementation of sperm whales proper conservation measures in the whole
basin. Creating integrated basin-wide monitoring programmes and networks of MPAs will be a key step forward.
References
Drouot V.,Bérubé M., Gannier A., Goold J.C., Reid R.J., Palsboll J. A note on genetic isolation of Mediterranean sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus)
suggested by mitochondrial DNA. J.Cetacean Res.Manage. 6(1):29-32,2004.
Engelhaupt D, Hoelzel AR, Nicholson C, Fratzis A, Mesnick S, Gero S, Whitehead H, Rendell L, Miller P, De Stephanis R, Canadas A, Airoldi S, Mignucci-
Giannoni AA (2009) Female philopatry in coastal basins and male dispersion across the North Atlantic in a highly mobile marine species, the sperm whale
(Physeter macrocephalus). Molecular Ecology 18: 4193-4205.
MATERIALS & METHODS
The photo-identification catalogue of the Strait of Gibraltar was compared with catalogues from different regions of the Mediterranean Sea
and the North Atlantic Ocean (Figure 1; Table1), using pictures of both flukes and body marks.
Aknowledgment
This results could not be possible without the help of all the CIRCE team, all the volunteers, Università degli studi di Pavia, Fundación Biodiversidad, Ministerio de Medio Ambiente y Medio Rural y Marino, Junta de Andalucia and VOLCAM.
Eva Carpinelli
NAMSC
34 contributers fromNorth
Atlantic Ocean and
Mediterranean Sea Tethys
Ligurian Sea Alnitak
Alboran Sea
5511 photos 132 individuals
134 sightings 11 individuals
7 sightings
1994-2004 2004-2010 2006-2008
CIRCE
Strait of Gibraltar
47 individuals
426 sightings
1999-2010
Table 1 Descriptive features of the different photo-id catalogues compared with CIRCE’s catalogue.
Figure 1 Sperm whale’s fluke resighted in the Strait of Gibraltar, in
the Alboran Sea and the Ligurian Sea.
Figure 2 Four individuals from the Strait of Gibraltar resighted
in the Alboran Sea. Figure 3 Six individuals from the Strait of Gibraltar resighted
in the Ligurian Sea. Figure 4 Two individuals from the Strait of Gibraltar resighted
in the Alboran Sea and the Ligurian Sea.
Università degli Studi
di Pavia
C04
Eva Carpinelli 1, 2, 3, Pauline Gauffier1, Renaud de Stephanis4, Philippe Verborgh1, Ruth Esteban1, Ana Cañadas5, Nino Pierantonio2, Sabina Airoldi2, Tim Lewis6
1CIRCE (Conservation, Information and Research on Cetaceans) Cabeza de Manzaneda 3, Pelayo, 11390 Algeciras, Cadiz, Spain
2Tethys Research Institute, Viale G.B. Gadio 2, Milano, Italy
3Centro Interdisciplinare di Bioacustica e Ricerche Ambientali, University of Pavia, Italy
4Department of Conservation Biology, Estación Biológica de Doñana (CSIC), 41013 Sevilla, Spain
5Alnitak, Cándamo 116, 28240 Hoyo de Manzanares, Madrid, Spain
6 International Fund for Animal Welfare, 8790 Albert Embankment, London SE1 7UD
... Even though recent bioacoustic data indicate a more consistent and frequent presence of sperm whales than previously thought in some areas of the Mediterranean Sea, like in Sicily ( Pavan et al., 2008), but the Mediterranean population appears to have declined over the last 20 years, mainly due to bycatch in driftnets targeting swordfish ( Reeves et al., 2006), in addition to ship strikes ( Panigada et al., 2006). The species is distributed throughout the Alboran Sea and Strait of Gibraltar ( Cañadas et al., 2002Cañadas et al., , 2005De Stephanis et al., 2008;Carpinelli et al., 2011Carpinelli et al., , 2012), Balearic Islands ( Gannier et al., 2002;Pirotta et al., 2011), Ligurian Sea ( Gannier et al., 2002) and Greece ( Frantzis et al., 2003Frantzis et al., , 2011), and can travel long distances between different areas ( Carpinelli et al., 2011Carpinelli et al., , 2012Frantzis et al., 2011). Little is known about the species in the Alboran Sea ( Cañadas et al., 2002Cañadas et al., , 2005), in particular regarding anthropogenic interactions in this area, and, as far as we are aware, the ingestion of plastic debris has not been described as a key issue for the conservation of the species in the Mediterranean Sea. ...
... Even though recent bioacoustic data indicate a more consistent and frequent presence of sperm whales than previously thought in some areas of the Mediterranean Sea, like in Sicily ( Pavan et al., 2008), but the Mediterranean population appears to have declined over the last 20 years, mainly due to bycatch in driftnets targeting swordfish ( Reeves et al., 2006), in addition to ship strikes ( Panigada et al., 2006). The species is distributed throughout the Alboran Sea and Strait of Gibraltar ( Cañadas et al., 2002Cañadas et al., , 2005De Stephanis et al., 2008;Carpinelli et al., 2011Carpinelli et al., , 2012), Balearic Islands ( Gannier et al., 2002;Pirotta et al., 2011), Ligurian Sea ( Gannier et al., 2002) and Greece ( Frantzis et al., 2003Frantzis et al., , 2011), and can travel long distances between different areas ( Carpinelli et al., 2011Carpinelli et al., , 2012Frantzis et al., 2011). Little is known about the species in the Alboran Sea ( Cañadas et al., 2002Cañadas et al., , 2005), in particular regarding anthropogenic interactions in this area, and, as far as we are aware, the ingestion of plastic debris has not been described as a key issue for the conservation of the species in the Mediterranean Sea. ...
... All the items of less than 4 cm 2 were weighted together and labelled as small plastics. The fluke of the sperm whale was compared with the catalogue created by Carpinelli et al. (2011Carpinelli et al. ( , 2012). The catalogue includes identifications of 47 sperm whales from the Strait of Gibraltar (collected between 1999 and 2011), 57 from the Balearic Islands (1994Islands (-2004, 35 from the Corso-provençal basin (1994-2011), 33 from the Hellenic Trench (1998Trench (-2009, 105 from the Ligurian Sea (1990Sea (-2010) and from the 5511 pictures of 34 contributors included in the NAMSC (North Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea) catalogue. ...
... Basé sur des études menées ces dernières années en Méditerranée (Gannier et al 2002;Stephanis et al, 2005;Lewis et al 2007;Boisseau et al, 2010;Carpinelli et al, 2011;Lewis et al, in. prépa), le nombre total de cachalot est estimé à plusieurs centaines d'individus. ...
... Comme signalé auparavant, la zone au sud d'Almeria est aussi importante pour les cachalots, ce qui renforce la proposition de ce site comme aire critique de conservation Dans le détroit de Gibraltar, la présence des cachalots est fréquente, bien qu'il ne s'agisse pas d'une population résidente, mais les individus proviennent de tout le bassin occidental de la Méditerranée (Carpinelli et al. 2011). Certains individus ont été observés chaque année dans la région (Gauffier et al. 2009). ...
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