Assessing long-range movements of
Mediterranean Sperm whale trough
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 long–range movements of sperm whales in the Mediterranean Sea and
contiguous Atlantic waters.
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.
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.
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.
34 contributers fromNorth
Atlantic Ocean and
Mediterranean Sea Tethys
Ligurian Sea Alnitak
5511 photos 132 individuals
134 sightings 11 individuals
1994-2004 2004-2010 2006-2008
Strait of Gibraltar
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
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, 87–90 Albert Embankment, London SE1 7UD