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Are humpback whales electing the Mediterranean Sea as new residence?

Authors:
  • KYMA sea conservation & research
  • Tethys Research Institute

Abstract

Once considered exceptionally rare in the Mediterranean basin, in the last decade the occurrence of humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) in this Basin has increased. Since 2001, 14 sightings, 3 strandings and 2 by-caught individuals have been reported from different locations across the Region. All individuals, ranging between 7 and 12 meters, were estimated to be 2-3 years old juveniles. No re-sightings have been documented to date, suggesting scouting and exploratory behaviors. Here we report the first re-sightings of a humpback whale in three different locations in the Mediterranean Sea. A whale, approximately 8-9-meters long, was first observed in the Ligurian Sea, NW Mediterranean, in June 2012. The same animal was then re-sighted off Lampedusa Island, Sicily Channel, in March 2013 over 1,000 km away in a straight line from the previous location and again in August 2013 in the Ligurian Sea. During the last sighting, the animal was associated to a fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus), the only known resident mysticete in the Basin. In all the occasions the whale didn’t show any sign of distress and, in the Lampedusa sighting, several episodes of surface feeding were observed. This specimen apparently managed to discover and exploit the main known feeding grounds for fin whales in the central Mediterranean Sea, where this species regularly preys on very abundant euphausiids species. These findings suggest that the Mediterranean Sea offer suitable habitats not only for fin whales but also for other mysticetes. The recent recovery of the North Atlantic humpback whale population might increase migrations of individuals in the Mediterranean through the Gibraltar Strait. This range expansion, possibly leading to a (re)colonization of the Mediterranean in the future, could expose the species to severe anthropic pressures (ship strikes, acoustic-chemical pollution) and urges appropriate mitigation measures to be considered and implemented also for this species.
Once considered exceptionally rare in the Mediterranean basin, in the last decade the occurrence of humpback
whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) in this Basin has increased.
Since 2001, 14 sightings, 3 strandings and 2 by-caught individuals have been reported from different locations
across the Region. All individuals, ranging between 7 and 12 meters, were estimated to be 2-3 years old juveniles.
No re-sightings have been documented to date, suggesting scouting and exploratory behaviors.
Here we report the first re-sightings of a humpback whale in three different locations in the Mediterranean Sea. A
whale, approximately 8-9-meters long, was first observed in the Ligurian Sea, NW Mediterranean, in June 2012.
The same animal was then re-sighted off Lampedusa Island, Sicily Channel, in March 2013 over 1,000 km away in a
straight line from the previous location and again in August 2013 in the Ligurian Sea.
Simone Panigada1, Sylvia Frey2, Nino Pierantonio3, Patrice Garziglia4, Fabio Giardina5
1,3 Tethys Research Institute, Viale G.B. Gadio 2, 20121 Milan, Italy
2 OceanCare, Oberdorfstrasse 16, CH-8820 Waedenswil, Switzerland
4 Fastboat Discovery, Capitainerie du Port de Plaisance, 06310 Beaulieau Sur Mer, France
5 Marine Protected Area Pelagie Islands, 92010 Lampedusa (AG), Italy
This specimen apparently managed to discover and exploit the main known feeding grounds for fin whales in the
central Mediterranean Sea, where this species regularly preys on very abundant euphausiids species (Figure 2).
These findings suggest that the Mediterranean Sea offer
suitable habitats not only for fin whales but also for other
mysticetes. The recent recovery of the North Atlantic
humpback whale population might increase migrations of
individuals in the Mediterranean through the Gibraltar
Strait.
This range expansion, possibly leading to a (re)colonization of the Mediterranean in the
future, could expose the species to severe anthropic pressures (ship strikes, acoustic-
chemical pollution) and urges appropriate mitigation measures to be considered and
implemented also for this species.
Figure 2 The whale feeding at the surface
(A) (B)
(C) (D)
Figure 1 The whale was first observed and identified
in the Ligurian Sea (A) and then recaptured off
Lampedusa Island (B) using the fluke. The third
recapture (C) was again in the Ligurian Sea, using
pictures of the right sight of the body photographed off
Lampedusa (D).
The map below shows the locations of sightings and
strandings of humpback whales in the Mediterranean.
These data has been collected in the framework of a project funded by the Italian Ministry of the Environment to the
International Whaling Commission. We are particularly thankful to Greg Donovan for his valid and continuous
support. We are grateful to Salvatore Taranto and Giovanni Raptis for their support in the field off Lampedusa.
... Since 1885, 24 records (16 sightings of which four with two individuals, three strandings and 5 by-caught individuals) have been reported from dif-ferent locations across the Mediterranean basin. All individuals, ranging between 7 and 12 meters, were estimated to be 2-3 years old juveniles (Panigada et al., 2014). ...
... The last sighting was an individual approximately 8-9 meters long, observed in three different locations: the first time it was observed in the French Liguria Sea, NW Mediterranean, in June 2012; then, the same animal was re-sighted off Lampedusa Island, Sicily Channel, in March 2013 over 1,000 km away in a straight line from the previous location and again in August 2013, in the "Italian" Ligurian Sea (Panigada et al., 2014). No specimens from Mediterranean Sea are preserved in Italian museums (Cagnolaro et al., 2014). ...
Article
Full-text available
It is reported the sighting of a Humpback Whale Megaptera novaeangliae (Borowski, 1781) (Cetacea Balaenopteridae) in the Gulf of Pozzuoli, near the coast of Baia (Bacoli, Napoli, Campania, Southern Italy). This record represents the first in the Tyrrenian Sea, the eighth in the Italian Seas and the twenty-fourth in the Mediterranean Sea. KEY WORDS Megaptera novaeangliae; Humpback Whale; sighting; Tyrrhenian Sea.
... Their occurrence in the Mediterranean were justified by Aguilar (1989) as a pursuit for food following the fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus) migration patterns. Although, new data revealed no seasonal migration patterns for fin whales through the Strait of Gibraltar (Notarbartolo di Sciara et al., 2003), Panigada et al. (2014), reported the re sighting of a Humpback whale in the Mediterranean Sea suggesting that this area might be an appropriated habitat not only for fin whales but for other baleen species. ...
Article
The presence of humpback whales (MN) (Megaptera novaeangliae) in the Mediterranean Sea has increased for the last 150 years. The reasons why they enter this sea are still unknown and therefore, a review adding new records of the species in the Mediterranean Sea has been considered. Repeated sightings of a young individual have been detected in the bay of Algeciras (Strait of Gibraltar) such that coincided, with stranding events of vast amount of northern krill (Meganyctiphanes norvegica) and species of lantern fish (Myctophum punctatum). Furthermore, data of stranded animals were also added. For all these reasons, the historical presence of this species in the Mediterranean – bypassing its Atlantic migratory routes –, and the theory of why the species occasionally visits this sea has been argued in this paper. Mediterranean sightings map for the species have been developed and overlapped with primary production areas and chlorophyll concentrations in the same sea, finding coincidences between areas of high concentration of productivity and presence of humpback whales. All the individuals detected in the Mediterranean Sea were juveniles or sub-adults (never mother–calf pair), supporting that humpback whales enter these waters for feeding reasons. These solitaire animals may come from their trophic migrations movements rather than the return migration from breeding areas belonging to the North Atlantic populations. Given the increasingly frequent occurrence of these species in the Mediterranean waters, environmental monitoring and conservation programmes for humpback whales should be developed.
... In all, 26 records ( Fig. 2, Tab. 1; this study) -also including multiple observations of the same subject -have been obtained for the Mediterranean (Frantzis et al., 2004;Centro Studi Cetacei, 2006;Genov et al., 2009;Notarbartolo di Sciara and Birkun, 2010;Panigada et al., 2014;Cagnolaro et al., 2015; our study). Our observation offers further evidence that humpback whales systematically visit the Mediterranean Sea and that the frequency of sightings is increasing. ...
Article
Full-text available
We report on the sighting of a humpback whale Megaptera novaeangliae for the Tyrrhenian Sea, where the species had not been observed previously. Since the 1980s the species has become an increasingly frequent visitor of the Mediterranean Sea, where the mean observation rate is ca. 0.1 subjects/year. The sighting was made on December 10, 2015 at 10 a.m. local time, in the shallow waters of Baia, in the Gulf of Naples (Campania Region, Southern Italy, 40°49 0 N, 14°4 0 E). The increased sighting frequency of humpback whales suggests that in the near future this species will become more common in the Mediterranean. We remark that Marine Protected Areas might play an important role in protecting the species but appropriate management and effective mitigation of potential threats are essential.
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