This year we have been part of a fantastic experience: supporting the Rorqual Project, which is an initiative developed by the EDMAKTUB Association that aims to study and conserve the fin whale species in the coastal strip between Barcelona and Tarragona. This is a pioneering research project, as it is the first to be carried out in the area and incorporates innovative research techniques such as the use of drones to capture images and collect samples and TIMEZERO to generate its own bathymetry, plan routes and organize strategic data layers. The project includes three areas of action: research, education, and dissemination, with the aim of deepening the study of cetaceans, conserving their aquatic environment and promoting the use of non-invasive research methods for the animals. For more information, download the Report and Results document at: http://www.edmaktub.org/memoria/
This project is carried out by the EDMAKTUB Association, a non-profit organization based in Barcelona. It is dedicated to the scientific study and dissemination of the aquatic environment, especially research on cetaceans. Its main objective is to deepen the knowledge of the sea and marine fauna to preserve its richness and biodiversity.
This year, Project Rorqual ends with a high number of sightings, following the trend of the previous year, and with the implementation of new technologies to improve knowledge and conservation of whales, habitat, and biodiversity in the area.
The Edmaktub project has shared its latest press release with all the important events of the 2022 season, below we quote part of that press release:
2022 season highlights.
– 2022 has been a year with a high whale presence, continuing the trend of 2021. In this case, the wind and rains in March favored the production peaks and the presence of plankton, the main food of the fin whales, until the end of May.
– We have continued with the innovative technique, pioneer worldwide, of identifying fin whales by means of drone images. In this way, 99 fin whales have been identified, an annual record in number of individuals to date, and unique images of behavior and feeding have been obtained.
– The incorporation of new technologies; TIMEZERO software, an echo sounder and a thermal camera, opens new avenues of research and represents a great advance for the knowledge and conservation of the fin whale.
– TIMEZERO software has facilitated our work with the thermal camera and the echo sounder, allowing us to download daily weather and oceanographic forecasts which we have been able to use to study the presence of whales in the different areas of the study area. This software has also facilitated the collection of traffic data and has allowed us to store the information very efficiently.
– The use of an echo sounder has been decisive for the detection of masses of organisms, possibly plankton, in the areas where we have found fin whales feeding. A deeper study is necessary to determine the organisms corresponding to these spots of the echo sounder. Some images have been attached below, in the echosounder section.
– This year we started working with a thermal camera (M364 LR) in collaboration with FLIR. This camera was installed on the mast of our research catamaran, the Maktub, at the end of March with the aim of studying the feasibility of this technology for remote detection of fin whales, in order to determine if it is a useful tool for minimizing collisions, the main threat to whales worldwide. Throughout the project, several hours of thermal camera footage has been collected with the fin whales. It has been possible to detect fin whales up to 1000 meters away. It was also possible to detect the fin whales during night filming, when the light did not allow to see them from the boat. A continuation of the study is necessary to determine its feasibility, but the preliminary results are very promising. Some images are attached below, in the thermal camera section.
– This season, 5 satellite tags have been deployed with the collaboration of Dr. Simone Panigada of the Tethys Research Institute. These tags have been used to track fin whales, allowing to locate the positions of the animals between 10 days and one month during the month of May and the beginning of June. Throughout this time, the animals have been traveling along the Catalan coast and the Gulf of Leon, at a greater distance than in previous years, marking possible feeding areas.
– The professional fishermen of the Catalan coast, especially the trawling fleet, have once again been great collaborators of the project, reporting sightings, transmitting the state of fishing and oceanographic conditions along the coast.
– Collisions with vessels are the main concern for the conservation of fin whales in this area. The data collected, together with the animals showing collision marks and the high maritime traffic indicate the high threat to this species. It is also worth mentioning the disturbance caused by the harassment of recreational boats that are irresponsible, insensitive and unaware of the law that protects cetaceans, which prohibits their approach (Royal Decree 1727/ December 21, 2007 which establishes measures for the protection of cetaceans).
– This year we have published an article in the Scientific Journal Frontiers entitled “Ship Strike Risk for Fin Whales (Balaenoptera physalus) Off the Garraf coast, Northwest Mediterranean Sea” in which we expose the problem about collisions between whales and merchant ships off the coast of the Garraf. You can find the article in the following link: Frontiers | Ship Strike Risk for Fin Whales (Balaenoptera physalus) Off the Garraf coast, Northwest Mediterranean Sea (frontiersin.org)
· After the end of the season on the Catalan coast, the whales have moved to offshore areas and during these days of late June and early July are being seen traveling south and into the Atlantic by different areas of the Spanish east as Denia, Cabo de Palos, Cabo de Gata and the Strait of Gibraltar. This season the project has been extended with a stay in Denia in collaboration with the Cabo Rorcual Project carried out by the ValenciaPolytechnic University, the City Council of Denia, Guardacostes Dénia and the association Eucrante. Of the 21 individuals sighted and catalogued, we have been able to identify 3 animals previously located on the Catalan coasts feeding, which corroborates our observations that part of the fin whale population, which feeds in Catalan waters, is from an Atlantic population. However, this fact does not rule out that fin whales from the Mediterranean population also feed in this area, which, in turn, will head in this summer to the Ligurian Sea and the protected area of the Pelagic Sanctuary. This data makes the feeding area of the Catalan-Balearic Sea, and especially the Catalan coast, one of the most relevant areas for the fin whale in the Mediterranean and worthy of consideration for any conservation plan for this species.
– In this line of collaboration with Valencia PolytechnicUniversity, during the season a hydrophone has been anchored off the coast of Garraf, which will allow to deepen the knowledge of the vocalizations of fin whales; being able to relate these with the presence of whales recorded during the Fin Whale Project.
– This year we have also collaborated with the director Neus Ballús for the realization of a short film entitled “BLOW!”, produced by El Kinògraf and Distinto Films. The film tells the day-to-day life of the association’s team during the course of the Rorcual Project, in a story halfway between documentary and fiction. BLOW!” is expected to be released at festivals in January 2023.
– The Garraf coasts, as well as the Catalan coast and the high sea areas studied, have once again shown an abundant and rich biodiversity in species: we found cetaceans, seabirds, fish and reptiles. During the campaigns, all the cetacean species regularly present in the Mediterranean have been sighted; In addition to fin whales, bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus), striped dolphins (Stenella coeruleoalba), common dolphins (Delphinus delphis), Risso’s dolphins (Grampus griseus), black pilot whales (Globicephala melas), Cuvier’s beaked whales (Ziphius cavirostris) and sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) have been sighted. As for the birds, there are up to 22 different species among which the Balearic shearwater (Puffinus mautitanicus) and the Mediterranean shearwater (Puffinus yelkouani) are abundant, both in danger of extinction. And as for fish, among many others, the always abundant sunfish (Mola mola) and the manta ray (Mobula mobular). And finally, several sightings of the loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta) have been recorded.
Attached below are some images of the fin whales captured with the thermal camera.
Attached below are some images from the echo sounder, Furuno 520-5MSD, in which masses of organisms, probably krill, could be detected. The echo sounder is represented on the right side of the image, the part with the blue background. The masses of planktonic organisms are the spots that appear on the screen, being light blue for lower density and red for higher density. The locations of these higher density masses have coincided with the presence of feeding fin whales.
Video resumen: https://youtu.be/lFGhAULSHzg