Alborán Deep IMMA
22 660 km2
Qualifying Species and Criteria
Sperm whale – Physeter macrocephalus
Criterion A; C (2)
Cuvier’s beaked whale – Ziphius cavirostris
Criterion A; B (2); C (1)
Risso’s dolphin – Grampus griseus
Criterion B (2); C (1, 2)
Long-finned pilot whale – Globicephala melas
Criterion B (ii); C (i, ii)
Marine Mammal Diversity
Criterion D (2)
Balaenoptera physalus, Delphinus delphis, Tursiops truncatus
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The Alborán Deep is characterised by a complex bottom topography with many escarpments, ridges, canyons, and seamounts, all creating a good habitat for squid-eating deep-diving species in the Alborán Sea. Concentrated in this area have been numerous sightings of long-finned pilot whales (Globicephala melas), Risso’s dolphins (Grampus griseus), Endangered Mediterranean sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus), and Vulnerable Cuvier’s beaked whales (Ziphius cavirostris), all confirmed from spatial modelling of their habitats. This area has the highest density in the Mediterranean for pilot whales, and one of the three highest densities for beaked whales.
Description of Qualifying Criteria
Criterion A – Species or Population Vulnerability
Mediterranean subpopulation of sperm whales is considered to be Endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The Alborán Sea forms a gateway between the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, and therefore forms a passage area for animals that might travel between both areas. It is especially important as a connection area between the Strait of Gibraltar and the rest of the Mediterranean; there is photo-id evidence of recaptures of animals in the Strait of Gibraltar, the Alborán Sea and the Ligurian Sea. 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 B2: Aggregations
Long-finned pilot whale density within the area is the highest recorded within the Mediterranean. Large aggregations of long-finned pilot whales have been observed every year in all seasons with mean group size of 29 and up to 350. The latest abundance estimate for long-finned pilot whales is of 7,440 individuals. Satellite tagging of pilot whales also shows an intense use of the area.
Cuvier’s beaked whale densities within the area are some of of the highest recorded for each of the species within the Mediterranean. Cuvier’s beaked whales are found every season and this area shows one of the highest densities of this species in the Mediterranean as shown by the Mediterranean wide density surface modelling of Cuvier’s beaked whales, with an estimate of 429 individuals in the Alborán Sea.
Risso’s dolphin densities within the area are some of of the highest recorded for each of the species within the Mediterranean. Risso’s dolphins, although encountered much less often than pilot whales, are also sighted every year and show high number of identified individuals with photo-identification, when compared with other areas such as the Ligurian Sea. The most recent abundance estimate for Risso’s dolphins is of 864 animals only in the northern third of the Alborán Sea with an extension to include the Alborán Island.
Criterion C: Key Life Cycle Activities
Sub-criterion C1: Reproductive Areas
Calves are observed very frequently for long-finned pilot whales and Risso’s dolphins, indicating that this is a reproductive area for them. Calves have also been observed in Cuvier’s beaked whales. The presence and number of calves has been recorded during long term monitoring efforts in the region. For every encounter of cetaceans, 64% of the encounters of pilot whales and 32% of the Risso’s dolphin encounters included calves in the groups. Mating behaviour was directly observed in many occasions in pilot whale’s groups. Calves have been observed in Cuvier’s beaked whales although much less frequently than for the other two species.
Sub-criterion C2: Feeding Areas
Feeding behaviour has been observed in the four deep diver species in this area: sperm whales, long-finned pilot whales, Cuvier’s beaked whales and Risso’s dolphins. Data has been gathered in this area from 1992 to 2011 (20 years), in all seasons but mainly in Summer. Indirect evidence during many observations (long dives) have been observed frequently in the four deep diver species in this area, which is rich in cephalopods due to the bathymetric characteristics of the area. Pilot whales were tagged with DTAGs in 2010 and 2011 in the Alborán Sea showing typical forging/feeding behaviour during long dives. Cuvier’s beaked whales were followed over long periods of time (several hours each) collecting data on diving behaviour through focal follow, showing typical behaviour of long dives for foraging/feeding. Long dives, typical for foraging/feeding have also been observed in sperm whales and Risso’s’ dolphins.
Criterion D: Special Attributes
Sub-criterion D2: Diversity
This is an area with diversity of deep diver species (sperm whales, long-finned pilot whales, Cuvier’s beaked whales and Risso’s dolphins), but also holds large aggregations of other cetacean species (striped, common, and common bottlenose dolphins), and regular (although with less density) presence of migrating fin whales. Other species have been observed sporadically (false killer whale, killer whale, minke whale) making it the area with the highest cetacean diversity in the Mediterranean.
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