[MARMAM] Humpback whale in Slovenia: an epilogue and a new paper

Tilen Genov tilen.genov at gmail.com
Mon Sep 7 05:11:59 PDT 2009

Dear list members,

in February 2009, we posted a message about a humpback whale in Slovenian
waters (North Adriatic). As several list members showed great interest in
this issue and asked us to send some updates, we decided to send this
summary, a sort of an "epilogue" of the story.

A humpback whale (*Megaptera novaeangliae*) was present in Slovenian waters
(off the town of Piran) between February and April 2009. According to the
available literature, this was the first documented record of this species
in Slovenia and the Gulf of Trieste, the second in the Adriatic Sea and the
14th in the Mediterranean.

After receiving initial reports about a whale from local fishermen and port
police, we located the whale on 16 February 2009 and identified it as a
humpback whale. During its stay, we regularly monitored the whale. We
observed and recorded its behaviour, movements and dive times. It was
estimated to be about 10-12 meters long. Based on this, we assumed that the
animal was a young adult or a sub-adult. The animal appeared in good body
condition and did not show any obvious signs of illness or difficulties.
Underwater footage of the genital area revealed that the animal was a male.
No injuries (other than normal scarring) were observed. We photographed the
dorsal fin and the tail fluke of the whale for photo-identification.

Although we do not have any definite evidence, certain observations (i.e
occasional lateral sub-surface swimming, presence of feeding
seagulls) suggest that the whale was feeding. The fact that large schools of
gilt sardine (*Sardinella aurita*) were present in the area (many were seen
washed ashore dead, or swimming feebly at the water surface), further
supports this hypothesis. We believe this was the most likely reason for the
whale to come to the North Adriatic. Interestingly, a short-beaked common
dolphin (*Delphinus delphis*), a species that has not been recorded here in
the last 20 years, was also seen in the area at that time.

In collaboration with colleagues from College of Atlantic, we compared the
photos to the North Atlantic Humpback Whale Catalogue (curated at the
College of Atlantic), but no matches were found. The whale was given a new
HWC# code and included in the NAHWC catalogue.

During the whale's visit, we contacted the Slovenian Ministry of Environment
and Spatial Planning and proposed a code of conduct for observing the whale.
We are very pleased that the Ministry responded quickly and issued the
official code of conduct, which at least partially reduced disturbance.
Furhermore, after collecting a "sufficient" amount of data from our
inflatable boat (in the first week), we refrained from further boat
observations and continued to monitor the whale from the coast (as the whale
constantly remained close to coast, this was fairly easy to do). We decided
to do so in order to set an example to the public and because additional
potential disturbance was unnecessary. Only a few additional boat-based
observations were carried out later on in March, to check on the condition
of the whale.

A short paper about this unusual visit was recently published:
*Genov, T., Kotnjek, P. & Lipej, L. 2009.* New record of the humpback whale
(*Megaptera novaeangliae*) in the Adriatic Sea. Annales, Series Historia
Naturalis, 19(1), 25-30.

The paper is available at the following address:
Please let us know if you have trouble opening the file or have any

The whale was last seen on 21 April 2009. We received no further reports
about the whale from anywhere else in the Mediterranean. If anyone has
spotted (or will spot) any humpbacks in the Mediterranean (or in the Strait
of Gibraltar, for that matter), we kindly ask you to let us know!

We are at your disposal for any further information.

Best wishes,

Tilen Genov and Polona Kotnjek, Morigenos - marine mammal research and
conservation society, Slovenia, www.morigenos.org


Lovrenc Lipej, National Institute of Biology, Marine Biological Station,
Slovenia, www.mbss.org
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