Western Ligurian Sea and Genoa Canyon IMMA

Area Size

8 526 km2

Qualifying Species and Criteria

Cuvier’s beaked whale – Ziphius cavirostris
Criterion A; B (1, 2); C (1, 2)

Marine Mammal Diversity

Stenella coeruleoalba, Physeter macrocephalus, Globicephala melas, Balaenoptera physalus, Grampus griseus

Download brochure


The Genoa Canyon, located in the westernmost part of the Ligurian Sea, has been identified as a high-density area for a resident population of Mediterranean Cuvier’s beaked whales (Ziphius cavirostris). A high correlation was also observed between the presence of Cuvier’s beaked whales and the underlying canyon area; this has been validated by modelling studies. The area extends to the 1000m isobath.

Description of Qualifying Criteria

Criterion A: Species or Population Vulnerability

The subpopulation of Cuvier’s beaked whale in the Mediterranean Sea is listed as Vulnerable (VU) C2a(ii) IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, with a decreasing population trend (Cañadas and Notarbartolo di Sciara, 2018).

Criterion B: Distribution and Abundance

Sub-criterion B1: Small and Resident Populations

This area is indicated to contain the highest density of Cuvier’s beaked whale in the Mediterranean Sea. This fact is supported by other studies that indicate the the Ligurian Sea is a high-density area with high site fidelity for the species. Mark recapture analysis conducted on a long-term dataset report an abundance estimate of about 100 individuals and pattern of high residency within the Genoa Canyon.

Sub-criterion B2: Aggregations

his area is indicated to contain the highest density of Cuvier’s beaked whale in the Mediterranean Sea. A combination of acoustic and predictive modelling studies to map high density areas for beaked whale at Mediterranean level indicate the importance importance of the Genoa Canyon area, and wider Ligurian Sea, for Cuvier’s beaked whale as the areas with the highest predicted density and acoustic encounter rates.

Criterion C: Key Life Cycle Activities

Sub-criterion C1: Reproductive Areas

Long term photo-identification studies have shown the presence of both juveniles and calves in the Ligurian Sea. At least 2 newborns, showing fetal folds, have been photographed in 2016.  Maturity results indicate that 19 groups were mixed herds (with both immature and mature individuals), 17 groups were herds of only immature animals and 4 groups were herds of only mature animals. The 19 mixed herds were composed mainly of 4.0±2.2 individuals (range=2–8) and were made up of 58% mature individuals. The 17 immature groups were composed of 2.1±0.9 individuals. Mature animals were usually found alone.

Sub-criterion C2: Feeding Areas

Evidence of feeding has been reported research conducted in the Ligurian Sea. Stomach contents from stranded animals in the confirm that the animals feed on mesopelagic cephalopod in the area. It is widely known that beaked whales are deep diving species, performing deep foraging dives to feed on deep water food resources. Cuvier’s beaked whale diving profiles in the Ligurian Sea showed foraging activity in mesopelagic to bathypelagic water depths (613–1297 m). The stomach contents of 3 Cuvier’s beaked whales stranded along the Ligurian coast consisted of digested mesopelagic cephalopod beaks principally of the Histioteuthidae family, specifically Histioteuthis reversa and H. bonnellii and other cephalopods species.

Supporting Information

Azzellino, A., Airoldi, S., Gaspari, S., Lanfredi, C. 2008a. Biological consequences of global warming: does sea surface temperature affect cetacean distribution in the Western Ligurian sea? J. Mar. Biol. Assoc. UK.  88 (06), 1145-1152.

Azzellino, A., Airoldi, S., Gaspari, S., Nani, B., 2008b. Habitat use of cetaceans along the Continental Slope and adjacent waters in the Western Ligurian Sea. Deep Sea Res. I, 55, 296-323.

Azzellino, A., Lanfredi, C., 2015. Analisi di distribuzione e abbondanza assoluta e relativa delle specie capodoglio (Physeter macrocephalus), grampo (Grampus griseus) e zifio (Ziphius cavirostris) nel Santuario Pelagos alla luce dei cambiamenti ambientali e dei fattori di pressione antropica. Report of Project financed by Ministero dell’Ambiente e della Tutela del Territorio e del Mare (N.0003302/PNM 19/02/2014) (In Italian).

Azzellino, A., Panigada, S., Lanfredi, C, Zanardelli, M., Airoldi, S. and Notarbartolo di Sciara, G., 2012. Predictive Habitat Models for Managing Marine Areas: Spatial and Temporal Distribution of Marine Mammals Within The Pelagos Sanctuary (Northwestern Mediterranean Sea). Ocean Coast. Manage. 67, 63-74.


Cañadas, A. and Notarbartolo di Sciara, G. 2018. Ziphius cavirostris Mediterranean subpopulation. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2018: e.T16381144A50286386. http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2018-2.RLTS.T16381144A50286386.en. Downloaded on 29 January 2019.

Coomber, F., Aaaelino, A., David, L., Di-Meglio, N., Labach, H., Origne, L., Aamar, D., Agliati, P.O, Rosso, M., Tepsich, P. and Moulins, A., 2015. Noise impact on sperm whale (P. macrocephalus) and Cuvier’s beaked whale (Z. cavirostris), estimated from the marine traffic. Convention PELAGOS Sanctuary No.2014-01. pp.140.

Coomber, F., Moulins, A., Tepsich, P., Rosso, M., 2016. Sexing free-ranging adult Cuvier’s beaked whales (Ziphius cavirostris) using natural marking thresholds and pigmentation patterns. J. Mammal. 97, 879–890. http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/jmammal/gyw033.

Crépon, M., Wald, L., Monget, J.M. 1982. Low-frequency waves in the Ligurian Sea during December 1977. J Geophys Res 87: 595-600.

D’Amico, A., Bergamasco, A., Zanasca, P., Carniel, E., Portunato, N., et al. 2003. Qualitative Correlation of Marine Mammals with Physical and Biological parameters in the Ligurian Sea. IEEE J Ocean Eng 28: 29-43.

Gannier, A. and Epinat, J. 2008. Cuvier’s beaked whale distribution in the Mediterranean Sea: results from small boat surveys 1996–2007. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom, 2008, 88(6), 1245–1251.

Lanfredi, C., Azzellino, A., D’Amico, A., Centurioni, L., Ampolo Rella, M., et al. 2016. Key Oceanographic Characteristics of Cuvier’s Beaked (Ziphius cavirostris) Habitat in the Gulf of Genoa (Ligurian Sea, NW Mediterranean). J.Oceanogr Mar Res 4:145.

Moulins, A., Rosso, M., Nani, B., Wurtz, M. 2007. Aspects of the distribution of Cuvier’s beaked whale (Ziphius cavirostris) in relation to topographic features in the Pelagos Sanctuary (north-western Mediterranean Sea). J Mar Biol Assoc UK 87: 177-186.

Moulins, A., Rosso, M., Ballardini, M., Wurtz, M. 2008. Partitioning of the Pelagos Sanctuary (north-western Mediterranean Sea) into hotspots and coldspots of cetacean distributions. J. Mar. Biol. Assoc. UK 88, 1273–1281.

Notarbartolo di Sciara, G., Agardy, T., Hyrenbach, D., Scorazzi, T., Van Klaveren, P. 2008. The Pelagos sanctuary for Mediterranean marine mammals. Aquat. Conserv.18, 367–391.

Orsi Relini, L., Garibaldi, F. 2005. Mesopelagic cephalopods biodiversity in the Cetacean Sanctuary as a result of direct sampling and observations on the diet of the Cuvier’s Beaked whale, Ziphius cavirostris. Biol Mar Medit 12: 106-115.

Ovchinnikov, M. 1966. Circulation in the surface and intermediate layers of the Mediterranean Oceanology 6: 48-59.

Rosso, M. 2010. Population size, residency patterns and energy demand of Cuvier’s beaked whales (Ziphius cavirostris) in the north western Mediterranean Sea. PhD thesis, University of Basilicata, Potenza, Italy.

Rosso, M., Ballardini, M., Moulins, A., Wurtz, M. 2011. Natural markings of Cuvier’s beaked whale Ziphius cavirostris in the Mediterranean Sea. Afr. J. Mar. Sci. 33 (1), 45–57.

Tepsich, P., Rosso, M., Halpin, P.N., Moulins, A. 2014. Habitat preferences of two deep-diving cetacean species in the northern Ligurian Sea. Mar. Ecol. Prog. Ser. 508, 247–260.

Tyack, P.L., Johnson, M., Aguilar Soto, N., Sturlese, A., Madsen, P.T. 2006. Extreme diving of beaked whales. J Exp Biol 209: 4238-4253.


Download the full account of the Western Ligurian Sea and Genoa Canyon IMMA using the Fact Sheet button below:

To make a request to download the GIS Layer (shapefile) for the Western Ligurian Sea and Genoa Canyon IMMA please complete the following Contact Form:

    * Required fields

    Please read the User Licence Agreement and IMMA Layer Metadata Description