Thursday, 20 December 2012

Fin whales thriving off Italian Coast

Presence of Fin whales Central Tyrrhenian Sea increased over time
December 2012. A new study undertaken by the Italian Institute for Environmental Protection and Research, ISPRA shows that frequency of occurrence of Fin whales in the central Tyrrhenian sea has increased by 300% over 20 years.

Surveys from ferries
From 1989 to 1992 dedicated cetacean surveys along a trans regional fixed-transect in the central Tyrrhenian sea were carried out twice a week, using passengers ferries as a research observation platform. Collected data provided new information about cetacean species and their distribution in the region. From 2007 the research restarted with same protocol; the fixed line transect seasonally monitored the line from Civitavecchia (Rome) to Golfo Aranci (Sardinia), along a strategic area just outside the southern border of the Pelagos Sanctuary.

Despite the environmental changes and the viral epidemic that affected some cetaceans in the area during the two monitoring programmes, distribution, relative abundance and group size were largely unaffected for all species except the Fin whales. Sightings of Fins whale have surprisingly increased (+300%) and their spatial and temporal distribution showed a radical difference between the two periods. In both investigated periods the most common sighted species were striped dolphin (Stenella coeruleoalba), Fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus) and common bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus).

Reasons behind the increase of animal in the investigated area could be linked to high levels of Chlorophyll and increase maritime traffic in the Pelagos Sanctuary.

Cetacean monitoring network
ISPRA is within a network that monitors cetaceans using passengers ferries; types of observation platforms and cost of research, in fact, have been the main problems in the development of monitoring programs capable to survey cetacean population over time. Due to low costs, standard route, speed and height of the observation point, ferries are an efficient and cost-effective platform of opportunity for long-term monitoring programmes of cetaceans.

The surveys confirmed the existence of cetacean high density areas and the consequent need for conservation measures such as an extension of Pelagos Sanctuary southern border and the adoptions of specific measures in such areas.

Partners of the network are, among the others, CIMA Research Foundation, University of Pisa, EcoOcean Institute, GIS3M, the MPA Capo Carbonara, Sicilian Ketos, Accademia Leviatano, Fondazione CARICIV and Pelagos France.

The scientific journal Marine Ecology published this study#

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