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Whales sighted off Motril on 2 July. Observatorio del Mar
Rare sighting of fin whales off Costa Tropical in south of Spain
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Rare sighting of fin whales off Costa Tropical in south of Spain

The three animals, which can grow to between 20 and 27 metres long, were spotted by experts around 12 miles off the Port of Motril

Camilo Álvarez

Wednesday, 10 July 2024, 22:35

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While dolphins and whales are not an uncommon sight of the Granada coast, the fin whale, of which three were sighted around 12 metres from the port of Motril on Tuesday 2 Juy, is not often spotted.

Fin whales can measure "between 20 and 27 metres" long, explained Rafael Jiménez, president of the Observatorio del Mar. So unusual is the sighting of this species that Jiménez admits that he has "never seen them before". It is not the first time that they have been seen on their way to the Strait of Gibraltar, but it is a rare sight at this time of year and so close to the coast.

Three fin whales passed by on Tuesday 2 July, some 12 miles off the Port of Motril. There were spotted by professionals at the Observatorio del Mar by chance, who happened to be in the area monitoring other sea life as part of the campaign they are carrying out together with Circe (Conservation, Information and Study of Cetaceans) in the area.

Jiménez said that it is very difficult to see this type of large whale on the coast of Granada because they tend to migrate to the Strait of Gibraltar at a considerable distance from the coast. In summer recreational boats, "especially jet skis", generate traffic and noise which scares the whales off. That is why, according to Jiménez "in autumn and winter it is easier to see them closer to the coast than now".

The professionals tracked the animals for some time noting in particular the timing of their dives: "They enter the water and come out every eight minutes to breathe, like clockwork. They seem to time it like a human," explained the expert.

"They go into the water and come out every eight minutes to breathe like clockwork. They seem to time it like a human"

The fin whale is the only baleen whale that can be found in the Strait of Gibraltar on a regular basis. After the blue whale, it is the second largest animal in the world and can exceed 20 metres in length and 80 tonnes in weight.

They are notoriously difficult to spot, even in areas that they frequent. Seeing a fin whale during a whale watching tour from Tarifa is not very common, even though it is one of the species mentioned on the tourist brochures.

In the southern hemisphere fin whales undertake long migrations between their feeding grounds and mating areas. Probably due to the Gulf Stream, they do not cover such long distances in the northern hemisphere. For example, some populations live year-round in northern regions of the North Atlantic, and there are also populations that spend the whole year in the Mediterranean.

A guide to seeing cetaceans

The Observatorio del Mar, together with the provincial authority the Diputación de Granada, has presented a guide that aims to explain the world of cetaceans and their impact to the province of Granada. Jiménez points out that the idea is to provide complete training for both professionals and private individuals who want to observe their development on the Granada coast from their boats. "It is a very common practice in provinces such as Malaga and Cadiz, but not in Granada," he points out.

Jiménez points out that "there is a Royal Decree with all the regulations" which prohibits getting too close to the animals, keeping the engine running and trying to touch the animals. All of these come with heavy fines if the rules are not respected.

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