(Un)protected sperm whales

Published 07.12.2022


(Un)protected sperm whales

Sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus). Photo: Jordi Chías.

The sea around the Balearic archipelago has a sperm whale population that is important for the conservation of this species in the Mediterranean. Sperm whales can grow up to 18 metres long and weigh 50 tonnes. They form complex social structures, spending long periods of time at the surface to rest and socialise with their conspecifics, which makes them particularly vulnerable to collisions with boats. Collisions are probably the biggest threat to sperm whales in the Mediterranean. 
Thanks to the great work that the Tursiops Association has been carrying out for 20 years, we know that the area north of Menorca and the east and south of the Islands are Important Marine Mammal Areas
The Spanish government, together with the French, Italian, and Monegasque governments, will present a proposal to the International Maritime Organization (IMO) on 12–16 December to declare a large area of the Western Mediterranean as a Particularly Sensitive Sea Area (PSSA) with the aim of regulating maritime transport and making it compatible with the conservation of marine mammals and other species. 
While this is good news, it could have negative consequences for Balearic sperm whales. The proposed protection zone leaves out the areas of the Balearic Islands with a high density of these species and the breeding area north of Menorca and it is likely that, with the approval of the proposal, maritime traffic in these areas will intensify, increasing the risk of collision. 
At the beginning of 2022, the Balearic government requested the Spanish government to process the declaration of the Balearic Sea as a Specially Sensitive Sea Area (ZMES). It is hard to understand why the Balearic government's proposal for a ZMES has not been integrated into the central government's proposal. We will have time to clarify how it came to this point. The most important thing now is that both governments seek an urgent solution so that the Balearic ZMES proposal is integrated into the proposal to be presented in a few days at the IMO; and if this is not possible, that a commitment is made to do so in the near future.


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