FERRIES, A MEANS OF STUDYING CETACEANS
The Straits of Gibraltar is the only connection point between the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean and it covers Spanish, Moroccan and British waters. It is an area characterized by narrow passages, intense anthropogenic activities and the presence of resident cetacean populations. Up to seven species of cetaceans can be seen, including the fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus), the sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus), the killer whale (Orcinus orca), the long finned pilot whale (Globicephala melas), the common bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus), the striped dolphin (Stenella coeruleoalba) and the short-beaked common dolphin (Delphinus delphis).
WHAT IS THE FERRIES PROJECT?
It is a cetacean monitoring project from ferries which objective is to improve the scientific knowledge about the distribution of cetaceans in the Strait of Gibraltar and to advance in the conservation strategies of these species, such as the common and bottlenose dolphins or the fin and sperm whales, which are categorized as Endangered in the Mediterranean Sea, according to the IUCN.
It also aims to investigate the current practices and to provide guidelines for their improvement, as well as establish guidelines for the safe conduct in the presence of cetaceans, since some species, such as the fin or sperm whale, are particularly affected by collisions with large vessels.
With the support of Fundació Balearia and in collaboration with researchers from the University of Cádiz, the project began in 2018 under the management of the companies Marine Mammal Information, Research & Conservation (MMIRC) and Ecolocaliza, and since 2020 the management has been passed to on to Nereide.
This project allows technical personnel to go aboard ferries of the Balearia company for developing marine surveys in the Straits, more specifically aboard the Algeciras - Ceuta and Algeciras - Tanger Med routes. The surveys consist of linear transects during which data on cetaceans which inhabit these waters is collected. To do this, surveys are made twice or four a month in order to keep track of the different cetaceans populations.
The methodology followed is the one described by the Fixed Line Transect Mediterranean monitoring Network (the FLT Med Network monitoring protocol). Each survey includes a round trip to the city of destination and is done straightaway. During the surveys, visual observations are performed with / without binoculars to confirm the presence of cetaceans.
For each sighting, data such as identification of the species, estimate of the number of individuals, age class, behavior, etc. is collected. The position of the ferry is obtained by means of GPS and the distance between the platform and the individual/group sighted is estimated. The number of observers or volunteers on board can vary between 1 and 2 per survey, plus an expert who is the responsible of the survey.
Since the beginning of the project, up to 270 sightings of more than 5000 animals belonging to different species of cetaceans have been recorded, among which the common and the striped dolphins are predominate. A total of 119 hours and about 3850 km were traveled during 60 surveys.
The field work is complemented with training days in which information about the area and the animals that inhabit it are provided, together with the conservationist research that has been carried out and the importance of marine fauna in ecosystems. During these days it is intended to train volunteers so that they can collaborate with the project by going aboard the ferries to identify the different species of cetaceans that can be found in the area.
"Ferries as a means to monitor cetaceans" is part of the doctoral project on the integrated management of marine areas characterized by the presence of cetaceans, carried out with the supervision of researchers from the University of Cádiz and the University of Aveiro, in Collaboration with the University of Victoria (Canada).
ADVANTAGES OF MONITORING FROM FERRIES
For more information on the project or next courses dates, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact person: Alessia Scuderi, executive secretary of Asociación Nereide.