Fin Whale Project
DESCRIPTION OF THE PROJECT
The Fin Whale Project is a study approved by the Biodiversity and Protection of Animals division of the Departament of Agriculture, Livestock, Fishing, Food and the Environment of the Catalan Government. With this project we expect to improve our knowledge about the fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus) in the Mediterranean Sea.
Several studies have been conducted over the last few decades in the Mediterranean region. These studies have allowed the scientific community to learn more about the biology, distribution and the areas most frequented by the fin whale. Even so, there remain some uncertain aspects, like their migratory routes. In this regard, it looks like the Catalan Sea could be a passing zone between wintering grounds (probably located in the southern part of the basin) and the summer feeding grounds, especially the Ligurian Sea.
The study area is located in the waters in front of the central Catalan coast, between the villages of Castellfdefels and Segur de Calafell. The study will focus on a zone located between 5 and 12 nautical miles offshore and between the 200 and 1000 meters isobaths. This study area was chosen after finding out that there are several documented fin whale sightings in this zone during the last few years.
The Mediterranean fin whale population is rather small and its distribution uncertain for the most part of the year. The main goal of the project is to collect geographical, environmental, biological, behavioral and population data of every sighting. We also want to take photographs of every whale detected. This information will allow us to answer questions such as:
- What’s the importance of this region of the western Mediterranean Sea in the distribution, ecology and the migratory patterns of the fin whale?
- Which are the times of the year that the fin whale visits or crosses the area?
- Is it only an area crossed by the migratory route of the species?
- Are there always the same individuals crossing the area?
- Could the proximity of two important ports such as the port of Barcelona and the port of Tarragona alter the biology and the ecology of the species?
The Fin Whale Project is a non-invasive study in which we take geographic, environmental data, as well as behavioural and group composition data of the studied species. We also take photographs of all the individuals sighted.
The surveys are fulfilled following the guidelines of the Royal Decree 1727/2007, concerning the protections measures for cetaceans. We developed 5 different transects that allow us to study the area in a more complete and systematic way.
During the first season of the project we focused our efforts on obtaining concrete coordinates of fin whale sightings that allow us to define more exactly the area most visited by the species. We started the project in spring and later we decided to start a second stage in autumn. During the whole season we were able to conduct 9 surveys that allowed us to cover practically the entire study area.
During the first stage of the project, done from March to June of 2013, we conducted several surveys from the harbours of Vilanova I la Geltrú and Sitges. These surveys allowed us to record data about fin whales in the study area. During the different surveys, completed on sailing boats, we were able to observe other cetacean species such as the bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) and several sea bird species such as terns (Sterna spp.), cormorants (Phalacrocorax spp.) and different species of sea gulls.
Thanks to our contributors we were able to fulfill 5 surveys during the fall season, which were very useful to improve the protocols of the study and the methods used to collect data. Although we didn’t see any fin whale, we were able to spot different cetacean species of the Mediterranean such as the striped dolphin (Stenella coeruleoalba) and the bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus). We were also able to collect a lot of data and photographs of theses species.
We had 5 different encounters with striped dolphin groups in autumn, some of them for long periods of time, that allowed us to take some photographs, useful to study them.
We had 4 different encounters with bottlenose dolphin groups in spring and in autumn. Although they where shorter in time and there where less individuals in each group, we were able to take some photographs, and even detect the presence of a calf in some of the groups.
There is a marked difference in water depth between the sightings of the different species of cetaceans. The bottlenose dolphins were always spotted in coastal and shallow waters (up to 200 meters). The striped dolphins were always sighted in oceanic deeper waters (more than 400 meters). The fin whale individuals were spotted in intermediate waters.
|Fin whale||Balaenoptera physalus||2||2||70 – 250 m||No|
|Striped dolphin||Stenella coeruleoalba||5||150||400 – 627 m||Si|
|Bottlenose dolphin||Tursiops truncatus||4||20||17 – 200 m||Si|
FUTURE OF THE PROJECT
Every scientific project about cetaceans has to be conducted on a long term basis in order to draw meaningful conclusions, and the Fin Whale project is no exception. The first season of the project allowed us to improve the working methods and adjust them to the study, so that we can use them in the following years. Knowing that there are other species of cetacean in the area, we developed the Photo-Identification project: Whales and dolphins along the catalan coast. This new study replaces the Fin Whale Project in order to study the different species of cetaceans of the area. If you are interested in becoming a patron of the project, please contact us.
Besides the cetaceans that we sighted during the project, we were also able to capture pictures as beautiful as these.