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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 588:215-228 (2018)  -  DOI:

Contemporary migration of fin whales through the Strait of Gibraltar

Pauline Gauffier1,*, Philippe Verborgh1, Joan Giménez2, Ruth Esteban1, Juan Manuel Salazar Sierra1, Renaud de Stephanis1

1CIRCE (Conservation, Information and Research on Cetaceans), Pelayo-Algeciras, 11390 Cadiz, Spain
2Estación Biológica de Doñana-CSIC, 41092 Sevilla, Spain
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Fin whales Balaenoptera physalus used to be abundant in the Strait of Gibraltar and nearby Atlantic areas until their rapid collapse due to intense whaling at the beginning of the 20th century. Recent studies seem to indicate that some fin whales, believed to belong to the North East North Atlantic (NENA) stock, now use the area to travel between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. In this study, we analyzed 15 yr of direct observations combining vessel and land-based surveys with photo-identification to characterize the migration of fin whales through the Strait. These combined observations provide a temporal and spatial analysis of the whales’ movement patterns and behavioral activity. Our main findings suggest a migration of a small community of fin whales through the Strait of Gibraltar, with remarkable seasonal directionality. All whales travelled towards the Atlantic Ocean between May and October, and 69% towards the Mediterranean Sea between November and April. Observations of young whales exiting the Mediterranean Sea mainly between May and July suggest that at least part of this community is likely to calve in the basin. Due to the special sensitivity of the species to ship strikes and underwater noise, and the intense maritime traffic in the Strait of Gibraltar, we urge Spain and Morocco to cooperate through the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to ensure a safe crossing of these whales by the effective implementation and year-round extension of the existing recommendation of a seasonal vessel speed reduction to 13 knots.

KEY WORDS: Balaenoptera physalus · Migration · Respiratory rates · Swim speed · Ship strike · Strait of Gibraltar · Endangered species · Conservation

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Cite this article as: Gauffier P, Verborgh P, Giménez J, Esteban R, Salazar Sierra JM, de Stephanis R (2018) Contemporary migration of fin whales through the Strait of Gibraltar. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 588:215-228.

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