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Mediterranean sperm whales, Physeter macrocephalus: the precarious state of a lost tribe

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Abstract

First observed in the classical era, a population of sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) persists to this day in the deep waters of the Mediterranean Sea. Genetic and observational evidence support the notion that this is an isolated population, separated from its Atlantic neighbours. These whales depend on mesopelagic squid for food, and appear to occupy a very similar ecological niche to sperm whales in the open oceans. Recent evidence proving that individuals can pass between the eastern and western deep water basins confirms that this is a single population, not isolated into western and eastern stocks. We lack robust information on their population status, but they could number in the hundreds rather than thousands, and current densities appear to be much lower than those reported in the 1950s, suggesting that we should be very concerned about the conservation status of this population. This makes it vitally important to address the serious threats posed by ship strikes and entanglement in fishing nets, especially driftnets, and to carefully monitor other potential sources of anthropogenic impact. A step change in funding to collect better data and a clear shift in policy priorities are needed if we are to be serious about conserving this population.
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Details

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMediterranean Marine Mammal Ecology and Conservation
EditorsGiuseppe Notarbartolo di Sciara, Michela Podestà, Barbara E Curry
PublisherAcademic Press/Elsevier
Pages37-74
Edition1st
ISBN (Print)9780128051528
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2016

Publication series

NameAdvances in Marine Biology
Volume75
ISSN (Print)0065-2881

    Research areas

  • Sperm whale, Physeter macrocephalus, Mediterranean Sea, Endangered

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