Summer spatial distribution of cetaceans in the Strait of Gibraltar in relation to the oceanographic context

Renaud de Stephanis, Thomas Cornulier, Philippe Verborgh, J. Salazar Sierra, N. Pérez Gimeno, Christophe Guinet

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The Strait of Gibraltar, the only passage between the Mediterranean Sea and the
Atlantic Ocean, and characterised by a surface inflow of Atlantic waters and a deep outflow of
Mediterranean waters, is inhabited by a large number of cetacean species. The present study focuses
on the occurrence and the spatial distribution of cetacean species within the strait in relation to
oceanographic features. Shipboard visual surveys were conducted during the summers of 2001 to
2004, covering 4926 km. A total of 616 sightings of 7 cetacean species were made. The spatial distributions
of 6 species (short-beaked common dolphins Delphinus delphis, striped dolphins Stenella
coeruleoalba, bottlenose dolphins Tursiops truncatus, long-finned pilot whales Globicephala melas,
sperm whales Physeter macrocephalus and killer whales Orcinus orca) were examined with respect
to depth and slope. The analyses indicate that these species could be ordered into 3 groups. A first
group, with a northward tendency, is composed of common and striped dolphins. Due to its at-sea
location and feeding habits, this group is likely to feed on mesopelagic fishes or squids associated
with the surface Atlantic waters. The second group, constituted by bottlenose dolphins, long-finned
pilot whales and sperm whales, is mainly found over the deep waters of the central part of the strait.
While the foraging ecology of bottlenose dolphins is still unclear, both sperm whales and pilot whales
are most likely to feed on squids occurring in deep Mediterranean waters. The third group, formed
by killer whales Orcinus orca, was associated with blue fin tuna Thunnus thynnus fisheries in the
southwestern part of the strait.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)275-288
Number of pages16
JournalMarine Ecology Progress Series
Publication statusPublished - 2008


  • cetacean
  • Strait of Gibraltar
  • spatial distribution
  • feeding ecology
  • fisheries interaction


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