[MARMAM] Mass stranding of sperm whales - matching with previously photo-identified whale

Alexandros Frantzis afrantzis at otenet.gr
Mon Dec 14 15:03:14 PST 2009

Dear all,

Sad events like the recent mass stranding of sperm whales in east Italy 
may at least provide some advance in our understanding of their cause 
and of several biological/ecological aspects of the species involved.

During the last 12 years we are studying the sperm whales of the Greek 
Seas with particular emphasis in the area of the Hellenic Trench that 
includes the eastern Ionian Sea (located SE of the stranding position). 
A short documentary on this work made by EarthOcean can be watched at: 

As a result 176 sperm whales (the estimated total is close to 200) have 
been photo-identified. Therefore, it would be very interesting to know 
if the seven whales stranded in Italy were part of the population unit 
that inhabits the Hellenic Trench.

In this respect, we have asked Italian colleagues (and they have kindly 
forwarded our request to colleagues involved in the stranding) to 
communicate or gather the kind of photos that are necessary from each 
animal in order to make a comparison possible. These are photos of:

1) The left and right side of the dorsal fin area (for pigmentation marks)
2) The *dorsal and ventral* surface of the flukes (for pigmentation marks)
3) The trailing edge of the flukes
4) The humps (dorsal part) of the tailstock in one single photo
5) The pigmentation pattern of and around the lower jaw
6) The pigmentation of the ventral area, in front of the genital area
7) Any other mark or characteristic (e.g. parasites at the top of the head)

To show how likely it is that these whales and their "long history" is 
known, we have tried to match some low resolution photos that are 
available in the internet with known individuals. Although very few 
photos were useful in this sense, */we have already identified one male 
individual that was well known from our work. He had been sighted 8 
independent times in different years, starting from the year 2000/*. All 
8 sightings of this whale were at least 400 nm away from the stranding 
position. For this particular individual (and any other that may be 
known) it will be very important to know his age (as well as other 
relevant information). Checking the rest of the stranded whales for 
matchings is equally important.

The above finding makes the death of this whale an even sadder event for 
us, but it also provides one more evidence that /*the sperm whales of 
the entire eastern Mediterranean Sea are very few*/. The fact that a 
mass stranding due to whatever natural or anthropogenic cause can remove 
a so important part of the population shows that this population is 
extremely fragile./* Urgent conservation measures*/ have to be taken 
with no further delay by the Greek government, as well as at the 
regional level.

Alexandros Frantzis


Dr. Alexandros Frantzis
Scientific director
Pelagos Cetacean Research Institute
Terpsichoris 21
16671 Vouliagmeni,
Tel.: +30-210-8960108
e-mail: afrantzis at otenet.gr
website: http://www.pelagosinstitute.gr

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