A winter cetacean survey off southern Morocco, with a special emphasis on right whales


Notarbartolo di Sciara, G., Politi, E. and Bayed, A.



Secondary Title

Document presented to the Scienific Committee of the International Whaling Commimssion

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Morocco, Tursiops truncatus, bottlenose dolphin, Sousa teuszii, Dakhla Bay, Eubalaena glacialis, Right whales, Western Sahara, Atlantic humpback dolphin, distribution, West Africa


Between 20 January and 14 February 1996, a 20 m auxiliary ketch investigated the coastal waters of Southern Morocco, a former wintering ground for right whales (Eubalaena glacialis). The aims were to: verify if right whales could still be found in the area; evaluate the environmental conditions of the region and assess its suitability as a right whale habitat; investigate the status of other cetaceans living in the area; and establish a long-term cetacean sighting and stranding reporting mechanism in co-operation with the local authorities. A 750km survey yielded no cetacean sightings except inside Dakhla Bay, where communities of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) and Atlantic humpbacked dolphins (Sousa teuszii) were found to coexist. Local knowledge of a regular, predictable presence of large whales in the coastal zone was lacking. The hypothesis that the area still serves as a winter concentration site for the remnants of an eastern North Atlantic right whale population, although not falsified by this study, seems rather unlikely. The dearth of cetaceans in the shelf waters of Southern Morocco, as well as the possible over-exploitation of the fishing resources in the region, may be cause for concern and warrants further investigation. Finally, with the objective of increasing baseline information on the local cetacean fauna, and particularly concerning the possibility that right whales may be sighted in the future, a procedure was established for the long-term routine reporting of cetacean sightings and strandings by the Royal Navy of Morocco to the Groupe d’Etudes des Cétacés et Pinnipèdes du Maroc, Rabat.