Fin whale Project

The Fin Whale Project

Fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus) migrate every year along the Catalan coast, across the Balearic Sea (north-western Mediterranean basin). Despite being previously unknown by the scientific community, sightings are common in the Garraf area (between Barcelona and Tarragona) wherein local fishermen have reported to have seen them for decades. However, fin whales’ migration movements within the Mediterranean are still poorly understood.

EDMAKTUB is carrying out the first dedicated visual and acoustic studies on fin whales in this location through vessel-based random transect surveys, to investigate their presence within an area of shallow waters (150-300m depth) between the provinces of Tarragona and Barcelona, during the spring seasons of 2014-2019.


Fin whale Project Presentation

Interview to EDMAKTUB’s President (Spanish)(Spanish)

This project aims to study and better understand the ecology of this species and determine possible migratory routes in the western Mediterranean basin, by developing a major platform for research, tracking and identification of this species in the Balearic Sea.

We will determine fin whales’ abundance, distribution, habitat use, behaviours and degree of residency in respect to oceanographic and physiographic variables within the study area that could make this area such a remarkable habitat for this species during their migrations across the Mediterranean.

The main objectives that we intend to achieve through our research project are:

• Increase our fishermen and sailors contacts network, people who are constantly present in the study area, in order to encourage the transmission of information (both on real time and retrospectively) on the presence of fin whales.

• Increase general and scientific knowledge on this species, as well as investigate their migration routes.

• Create the first photo-identification catalogue for this species in the Catalan coast, using our data of observed and identified individuals to create distribution maps for the species in this specific area of the Mediterranean.

• Conduct a genetic study on the different fin whales individuals present in the area, by analysing the blow samples obtained using an innovative non-invasive technique consisting on a remote control aircraft (drone).

Data is obtained from visual surveys, opportunistic sightings by local commercial fishermen and opportunistic sightings by recreational users in the study area (all actively collaborating in the project). At the same time, during each survey we collect data on both the oceanographic and environmental conditions too.

We are also using an innovative non-invasive technique consisting of a remote-controlled multicopter (or drone) to sample each individual’s blow in order to obtain genetic samples, which will be later analysed. This technique allows us to cause them the minimum disturbance and distress possible by avoiding direct contact with animals and thus minimizing external influences on their behaviour.


We will then combine the genetic data from each individual’s blow sample with the photo-ID data in order to determine the population’s social structure and to be able to later compare data from other areas in the Mediterranean sea (including the Strait of Gibraltar), in order to establish whether they are an isolated Mediterranean subpopulation, or if they belong to the Atlantic population. We will also create the first identification catalogue for fin whales in this area of the Catalan coast, in which individuals will have been identified genetically and through photo-identification. Additionally, at the end of the project we will produce a documentary using images and data obtained during the study period and release a report showing the final results and conclusions (including sightings and distribution maps). 

The study area consists of a marine fringe located between the cities of Barcelona and Tarragona (as you can see on the figure below), NE Spain, within the Balearic Sea. Our marine research campaigns are mainly conducted in the area between the towns of Sitges and Cunit, including the Garraf area around Vilanova i la Geltrú as the main study area.

studyareafinwhale This is in turn an area of recognized ecological importance: a Site of Community Importance (LIC) and Special Protection Area for Birds (ZEPA), which forms part of the ‘Natura 2000 Network’ as a marine protected area and is included in the ‘Plan of Spaces of Natural Interest’ (PEIN).

After conducting our research campaigns, our preliminary results clearly show that a phenomenon of remarkable fin whale presence takes place along the Garraf coast annually during spring.

According to these results, the high presence of fin whales in the area would be due to the high concentration of food (in this case especially krill) available in the Garraf underwater canyons. This would be in turn reinforced by the oceanographic conditions that characterise the area created by the topography of such canyons, especially the Foix canyon.

These conditions make the Garraf area a potentially very important area for fin whales’ migration and survival; being at the same time an ecosystem of great importance for many other marine species too.

The following is a summary from our 2014 research campaign:

  • 62 fin whale sightings, 25% spotted by fishermen and sailors
  • 2289 Km travelled, 840 Km2 covered
  • 51 days of surveys, 295 hours of effort

avistamientos rorcual

Join us in our Research Assistant Program (RAP) Research Assistant Program

  • Bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)
  • Striped dolphin (Stenella coeruleoalba)
  • Risso’s dolphin (Grampus griseus)


  • Sun fish(Mola mola)
  • Manta (Mobula mobular)


  • Págalo grande
  • Págalo pomarino (Stercorarius pomarinus)
  • Cormorán moñudo
  • Gaviota enana
  • Gaviota de Audouin
  • Gaviota reidora
  • Gaviota cabecinegra
  • Gaviota argéntea
  • Gaviota
  • Frailecillo (Fratercula arctica)
  • Alca (Alca torda)
  • Alcatraz (Morus bassanus)
  • Pardela cenicienta (Calonectris diomedea)
  • Pardela mediterránea (Puffinus yelkouan)
  • Pardela balear (Puffinus mauretanicus)

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