Nine rare fin whales, were spotted last week off the Catalonian coast in northeastern Spain.
Eduard Degollada, who is the president of the scientific research association EDMAKTUB and studies whales in the region said that the early appearance of the mammals is likely due to an exceptional abundance of food this year linked to waters which are unusually high in nutrients.
“This year has been stormy and cold, and that means there are more nutrients in the waters,” Degollada said. “Having more organic material in the sea helps algae to grow, and in turn the main food of this species, which is krill.”
“We know that the whales go to the Mediterranean Sea between December and February through the Strait of Gibraltar, and arrive around March,” he said.
“Then in June and July, they head back through the Strait of Gibraltar, en route to the Atlantic Ocean.
”One of the nine mammals spotted feeding off the coast is a well-known veteran of Spanish waters known as Bruja (Witch) and can be identified because ‘its flipper has the form of a witch’s hat’,” said Degollada.
Bruja has been seen in these waters from as early as 2011, even before the Fin Whale Project started, he said.
The project has identified 132 individual whales so far. Biologists confirm that numbers dropped in 2019 from 2018 levels, a significant and concerning decrease.
Covid-19 lockdown made counting impossible for much of 2020, so scientists hope this early sighting is a good omen for returning to 2018 levels.
The fin whale is on the vulnerable list of the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List after hunting severely depleted numbers in the early 20th century.
And, though an International Whaling Commission moratorium on hunting them exists, the long, slender species sometimes called the ‘greyhound of the sea’ is feared to be targeted by Japanese hunters after the country quit the International Convention Regulation of Whaling in 2019.
“But their main threat is caused by shipping activity through collisions and propellor strikes or by becoming entangled in fishing nets,” Degollada said. “And, the noise from boats also has a significant negative effect.”