(From the International Whaling Commission website)
A collaborative satellite tagging programme under the auspices of the IWC has shed light on the migration patterns of Mediterranean fin whales. This latest research develops understanding of the routes travelled by the whales, and therefore the threats they face.
The project began in 2013, but the first tagging attempts were unsuccessful due to an unfortunate combination of harsh weather conditions, erratic whale presence and tag failure. In March, scientists successfully tagged two whales in waters around the island of Lampedusa, between Sicily and the North African coast.
After several weeks feeding in this area the whales separated, but both ultimately travelled across the Strait of Sicily towards the Pelagos Sanctuary in the northern Mediterranean. This journey gives the first clear indication that the whales feeding in the Strait of Sicily in winter are the same animals that congregate in the Pelagos Sanctuary in summer. This research also confirms that fin whales migrate north-south across one of the busiest east-west shipping lanes in the world.
The number of collisions between whales and ships, known as ‘ship strikes,’ is hard to quantify. Collisions with large ships often go unnoticed or unreported. The IWC has developed a global ship strike database and is gathering information to build a clearer picture of the problem, in order to develop solutions.
What is already clear is that ship strikes are more likely in areas where whale migration routes and shipping lanes cross. More work is needed to understand and address the threat to whales when they leave the safety of the Pelagos Sanctuary. Further work will also be undertaken to establish if there is any relationship between these whales and other known congregations in the eastern Mediterranean.
This programme is a multi-agency collaboration, funded by the Italian Ministry of the Environment, through the IWC and the Tethys Research Institute. The research is conducted in conjunction with the Institute for Environmental Protection and Research (ISPRA), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the University of Siena, and the Pelagie Islands Marine Protected Area.