Globicephala melas (Mediterranean subpopulation) 

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Mammalia Cetartiodactyla Delphinidae

Scientific Name: Globicephala melas (Mediterranean subpopulation)
Parent Species:
Common Name(s):
English Long-finned Pilot Whale
French Dauphin Pilote, Globicéphale Noir
Spanish Ballena Piloto, Calderón Común, Calderón Negro

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Data Deficient ver 3.1
Year Published: 2012
Date Assessed: 2010-04-26
Assessor(s): Cañadas, A.
Reviewer(s): Aguilar, A., Birkun, A., Bearzi, G., Donovan, G., Hammond, P., Fortuna, C., Gaspari, S., Perrin , W., Reeves, R. & de Stephanis, R.
Appropriate data are not available on the species’ biology, distribution and abundance in the Mediterranean region (except in part of the Alboran Sea and Strait of Gibraltar). Therefore, it is impossible to assess, either directly or indirectly, the conservation status of Long-finned Pilot Whales in the Mediterranean.

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:In the Mediterranean region, Long-finned Pilot Whales occur in the western Mediterranean Sea, including Strait of Gibraltar.

There are no confirmed records of Long-finned Pilot Whales from the eastern Mediterranean basin (Marchessaux and Duguy 1978, Frantzis et al. 2003) other than a floating carcass reported from the Gulf of Taranto off eastern Italy (Centro Studi Cetacei 1998), but a few unconfirmed sightings have been reported from Turkish waters (A. Oztürk pers. comm.) and other unspecified areas (three sightings; McBrearty et al. 1986). The species therefore is considered to occur regularly only in the western Mediterranean Sea. No information exists about its possible former presence in the eastern basin.

Confirmed records are from: Morocco (rare except in the Straits of Gibraltar; Bayed 1996; Verborgh 2005; de Stephanis et al. 2005; Verborgh et al. in press, although recent inquiries suggest a larger presence in Moroccan waters according to the stranding records; Belcaid, pers. comm.), Algeria (scarce; Boutiba 1994), Tunisia (rare; Lotfi et al. 1997), Spain (abundant in the Alborán Sea and Gulf of Vera but scarce northwards; Raga and Pantoja 2004, Cañadas et al. 2005), France (scarce; UNEP-RAC/SPA 1998, Gannier 2005) and Italy (regular to scarce; e.g. Podestá et al. 1997, Azzelino et al. 2008).

Countries occurrence:
Algeria; France; Gibraltar; Italy; Monaco; Morocco; Spain
FAO Marine Fishing Areas:
Mediterranean and Black Sea
Additional data:
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]


The species is common in the Alborán Sea and adjacent waters (Cañadas and Sagarminaga 2000), and relatively common to scarce in the rest of the western Mediterranean, but it is not recorded in the eastern basin. Relative density is unknown for most areas.

Estimates of abundance are available for the Strait of Gibraltar and the northern Alborán Sea. In the Strait of Gibraltar mark-recapture analysis on well-marked animals gives estimates ranging from 249 to 270 animals (Verborgh 2005, Verborgh et al. in press, De Stephanis et al. 2005, De Stephanis 2007). New estimates are available for 2006 (350, 95% CI of 314–386) and 2007 (297, 95% CI of 289–306) (CNEA 2009). In the Alborán Sea a preliminary abundance estimate was obtained through spatial modelling of line transect data, yielding an estimate of 1,890 animals, uncorrected for animals missed on the track line (therefore, this is considered an underestimate), with a 95% CI of 1,483–1,915 and CV = 0.07 (Jewell et al. 2007). Encounter rates are much higher in the Alborán Sea than in any other part of the Mediterranean (Cañadas and Sagarminaga 2000). Pilot whales are increasingly scarce in Spanish waters northwards from the Gulf of Vera, comprising only 2.1–2.5% of cetacean sightings recorded there (Raga and Pantoja 2004). The percentages are also low in other areas of the Mediterranean (e.g., 0.9 % for the Central Mediterranean, 2% for the NW Mediterranean, 3.6% for North African waters and 7.9% south of the Balearic Islands, as compared to 18.3% for the Alborán Sea) (Cañadas and Sagarminaga 2000).

Strandings have been recorded in Morocco, Algeria, Italy, France and Spain (Boutiba 1994, Podestá et al. 1997, UNEP-RAC/SPA 1998; Raga and Pantoja 2004, Belcaid pers. comm.). One animal (a floating carcass) was found in Greece (Frantzis et al. 2003).

Recent genetic analyses suggest differentiation between Long-finned Pilot Whales in the Mediterranean (n=173) and the Atlantic (n=78). One haplotype is unique to the Mediterranean, being the only one recorded in the Alboran Sea (n=45) and shared by the Strait of Gibraltar (n=92) and other Mediterranean areas (n=36) together with two other haplotypes. These results also suggest the existence of two subpopulations in the Mediterranean Sea: the Strait of Gibraltar and the rest of the Mediterranean, but with some mixing (Verborgh, in prep).

Most Long-finned Pilot Whales are “resident” in the Strait of Gibraltar according to a photo-identification study (Verborgh 2005, Verborgh et al. in press, De Stephanis et al. 2005), although some individuals that have been seen only once in the last seven years are considered “transient” (Verborgh 2005, Verborgh et al. in press, De Stephanis et al. 2005).

Population Trend

A reduction in abundance of around 15% is suspected to have occurred in the Strait of Gibraltar between 2006 and 2007 as a result of epizootics (CNEA 2009), but there is no suggestion of a longer-term decline in the abundance estimates since 1999 (Gauffier 2008). On the contrary, an overall positive trend is apparent, although this has not yet been quantified.

No trend in encounter rate has been recorded in the northern Alboran Sea. However, encounter rates in the two most recent years are the highest observed since 1992 (Cañadas, unpublished).

There is no information on abundance in the rest of the Mediterranean.
Current Population Trend:Unknown
Additional data:

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:

The Long-finned Pilot Whale is a predominantly offshore species with a preference for deep waters seaward of the continental shelf and slope in all areas of occurrence in the Mediterranean (Gannier 1995, Raga and Pantoja 2004, Cañadas et al. 2005, Azzelino et al. 2008). Preferred habitats are generally deeper than 500 m (mean of 849 m, SD = 281, range 207–1,800 m) with intermediate slopes in the Alborán Sea (Cañadas et al. 2002, Cañadas et al. 2005). They are even deeper in the central and northwestern Mediterranean: range 2,000–2,500 m in the Ligurian Sea (S. Airoldi, pers. comm.), mean of 2,063 m (SD = 875, range = 750–2,500) in the Ligurian and Tyrrhenian Seas (Notarbartolo di Sciara et al. 1993) and mean of 2,056 m (SD = 403) in the Provença-Liguria area (Gannier 2005).

The species is regarded as predominantly a squid-eater, but whales also feed at least occasionally on pelagic fish (Relini and Garibaldi 1992, Cañadas et al. 2002 and references therein, Olson and Reilly 2002).

Long-finned Pilot Whales are highly social, with a social structure similar to that of Killer Whales (Olson and Reilly 2002, de Stephanis 2007). Average group sizes in the Alborán Sea (30.3, SE = 2.19; Cañadas et al. 2005) and the Ligurian Sea (30.6, SE = 4.34, S. Airoldi, pers. comm.) are much larger than in other surveyed parts of the Mediterranean: 14 for the Strait of Gibraltar (de Stephanis 2007), 12 for the Tyrrhenian Sea (Di Natale 1982), 10 for the central and northwestern Mediterranean (SE = 1.33; Notarbartolo di Sciara et al. 1993) and 11 for the east coast of Spain (Raga and Pantoja 2004). Opportunistic sightings gave the highest average group size for the Alborán Sea in summer (23.4) compared to the rest of the Mediterranean and the NE Atlantic (9.5) (McBrearty et al. 1986).

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): Owing to their occurrence in offshore waters and their feeding habits targeting mainly deep-sea squids, Long-finned Pilot Whales are probably not often exposed to human activities that occur in coastal waters (tourism, many types of fisheries, etc.). No serious threats have been identified in the Mediterranean as yet, except for a recent morbillivirus epizootic (see below). However, potential threats include by-catch (between 1978 and 1982, 26 pilot whales were reported caught in fishing and other gear in the western Mediterranean, at least three of them in tuna nets; Northridge 1984); collisions with ships (at least two in the Straits of Gibraltar – R. de Stephanis, pers. comm.; two in the Tyrrhenian Sea – Di Natale 1982; one in the NW Mediterranean – Pesante et al. 2002); man-made noise (interaction but no clear results reported in the Ligurian Sea; Rendell and Gordon 1999); harassment during whale watching; and toxic pollution (high levels of organochlorine contaminants such as DDT and PCBs in the Atlantic – Olson and Reilly 2002; high levels of cadmium in the Faeroe Islands – Caurant et al. 1993, Olson and Reilly 2002). 

An epizootic in 2006–2007 caused high mortality among the pilot whales of the Strait of Gibraltar (follow the link below to see Table 1, extracted from Fernández et al. 2008). The epizootic started off the southern coasts of Spain in October 2006, first in the Strait of Gibraltar and expanding soon to the east to Almeria and the Balearic Islands and the region of Murcia. The last cases were detected in Valencia and the Balearic Islands in April 2007. This kind of epizootic could happen again.

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions:

One of the areas with regular confirmed presence of Long-finned Pilot Whales in the Mediterranean, the western section of the Ligurian Sea, is included within the marine Sanctuary dedicated to cetaceans in the Corso-Ligurian Basin, created by the Governments of Italy, France and Monaco (Pelagos Sanctuary, SPAMI). No management or conservation measures have been taken as yet specifically for the conservation of this species.

A SPAMI (Specially Protected Area of Mediterranean Importance) under the Barcelona Convention has been proposed for the northern half of the Alborán Sea and Gulf of Vera in southern Spain (Cañadas et al. 2005), but it has not yet been designated or even evaluated by the Spanish administration. This proposed area includes the “hot-spots” for Long-finned Pilot Whales in the Mediterranean.

In 2009 the Long-finned Pilot Whale was proposed as "Vulnerable" for the Spanish National Catalogue of Endangered Species, but evaluation and acceptance by the authorities is still pending.

Classifications [top]

10. Marine Oceanic -> 10.2. Marine Oceanic - Mesopelagic (200-1000m)
suitability:Suitable  major importance:Yes
10. Marine Oceanic -> 10.3. Marine Oceanic - Bathypelagic (1000-4000m)
suitability:Suitable  major importance:Yes

In-Place Research, Monitoring and Planning
In-Place Land/Water Protection and Management
  Conservation sites identified:Yes, over entire range
  Occur in at least one PA:Yes
  Area based regional management plan:No
  Invasive species control or prevention:Not Applicable
In-Place Species Management
In-Place Education
5. Biological resource use -> 5.4. Fishing & harvesting aquatic resources -> 5.4.3. Unintentional effects: (subsistence/small scale) [harvest]
♦ timing:Ongoing ♦ scope:Unknown ♦ severity:Unknown ⇒ Impact score:Unknown 
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality

6. Human intrusions & disturbance -> 6.1. Recreational activities
♦ timing:Ongoing ♦ scope:Unknown ♦ severity:Unknown ⇒ Impact score:Unknown 
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.2. Species disturbance

8. Invasive and other problematic species, genes & diseases -> 8.5. Viral/prion-induced diseases -> 8.5.2. Named species
♦ timing:Past, Likely to Return ♦ scope:Unknown ♦ severity:Unknown ⇒ Impact score:No/Negligible Impact: 0 
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality

9. Pollution -> 9.3. Agricultural & forestry effluents -> 9.3.3. Herbicides and pesticides
♦ timing:Ongoing ♦ scope:Unknown ♦ severity:Unknown ⇒ Impact score:Unknown 
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality

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Citation: Cañadas, A. 2012. Globicephala melas (Mediterranean subpopulation). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2012: e.T16376479A16376495. . Downloaded on 21 May 2018.
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