The news started to spread quickly yesterday in Montgat and on social networks: ‘Beached whale on Montgat beach!’ Protocols were activated immediately, and we received a request for materials to take samples of the fin whale from our partners on the EDMAKTUB project. Marine biologist and Zoo expert Dr Pablo Cermeño headed off to the beach quickly, where personnel from the Montgat Town Council were trying to figure out which species it was and what they should do with an animal that can weigh over 15 tonnes.
Pablo reported that it was a female fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus) approximately 14 metres long, and that it wouldn’t be possible to do a necropsy due to her advanced state of decomposition (5-6 days). We also know that this species’ most common causes of death tend to be collisions with ships and respiratory diseases. As the waves were rocking the whale’s body, taking samples at that time was ruled out, deciding instead to first remove her to the port.
Although it is quite uncommon for these whales to appear dead on beaches, in recent years and through studies conducted by EDMAKTUB with the support of the Barcelona Zoo Foundation, their presence in Catalan waters has been proven to be significant during the springtime. During 2017, over 300 were glimpsed from the end of February to the beginning of June! The reason is that on our coastlines—specifically on the Garraf coast—there is an important feeding area that had been previously unknown.
During 2018, researchers on the Fin Whale Project will try to determine the origin of these whales—whether they are Mediterranean or Atlantic—by employing genetic techniques, stable isotopes and satellite markers. We will be waiting for their yearly visit this spring in order to continue our research and thus be able to better protect these lovely giants of the sea.
The Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) generally catalogues the fin whale as an ‘endangered’ and ‘vulnerable’ species with regard to its Mediterranean population.
In recent hours, numerous people have contacted the Zoo asking for and giving information about this whale on our coastline. A big thank you to everybody!