Alborán Sea IMMA
55 938 km2
Qualifying Species and Criteria
Common dolphin – Delphinus delphis
Criterion A; B (2); C (1, 2); D (1)
Common bottlenose dolphin – Tursiops truncatus
Criterion A; B (2); C (1, 2); D (1)
Marine Mammal Diversity
Criterion D (2)
Balaenoptera physalus, Globicephala melas, Orcinus orca, Grampus griseus, Physeter macrocephalus, Ziphius cavirostris, Stenella coeruleoalba
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The Alborán Sea, the westernmost part of the Mediterranean Sea, opens to the Atlantic Ocean through the Strait of Gibraltar, becoming a transition area between these two basins which have radically different oceanographic characteristics. This transition area contains important habitat for Endangered Mediterranean common dolphins (Delphinus delphis) and Vulnerable common bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus). In addition, the area contains an important diversity of cetacean species, the highest such diversity observed within the Mediterranean Sea.
Description of Qualifying Criteria
Criterion A – Species or Population Vulnerability
The common dolphin Mediterranean subpopulation is listed as Endangered in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. This area has the largest concentration of the common dolphin subpopulation within the whole Mediterranean, containing the large majority of the total population, both due to large density of groups and due to very large group sizes, much larger than anywhere else in the Mediterranean. The most recent abundance estimate of common dolphin is of 19,082 (CV=4.7%) animals only in the northern third of the Alborán Sea with an extension to include the Alborán island.
The common bottlenose dolphin Mediterranean subpopulation is listed as Vulnerable in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The Alborán Sea also has large concentrations of bottlenose dolphins, which also present some of the largest group sizes in the Mediterranean. The latest estimate of abundance of bottlenose dolphin in the northern third of the Alborán Sea with an extension to include the Alborán island is 2,150 animals (CV=24.3).
Criterion B: Distribution and Abundance
Sub-criterion B2: Aggregations
Large numbers of both common and bottlenose dolphins inhabit the Alboran Sea area, both in terms of number of groups encountered and on the mean size of the groups. Data has been gathered in this area from 1992 to 2011 (20 years), for all seasons but mainly during the summer months. The largest concentrations of the common dolphin are observed for this subpopulation within the whole Mediterranean, containing the large majority of the total population, both due to large density of groups and due to very large group sizes, much larger than anywhere else in the Mediterranean. The most recent abundance estimate is of 19,082 (CV=4.7%) animals only in the northern third of the Alborán Sea with an extension to include the Alborán Island and 1966 animals (CV=0.11%) in the Strait of Gibraltar.
This area has also large concentrations of bottlenose dolphins, which also present the larger group sizes in the Mediterranean (Cañadas and Hammond 2006). The latest estimate of abundance of bottlenose dolphin in the northern third of the Alboran Sea with an extension to include the Alborán island is 2,150 animals (CV=24.3), for the Strait of Gibraltar 297 (CV=6.0%) animals, and for the southern area along the coasts of Morocco and Algeria 870 (CV=11%) animals.
Criterion C: Key Life Cycle Activities
Sub-criterion C1: Reproductive Areas
Both common dolphin and bottlenose dolphin species are seen mating and with calves in every year, including records of newborns. Data has been gathered in this area from 1992 to 2011 (20 years), for all seasons but mainly in summer. Calves for both species have been observed all years. Groups with calves have been modelled through density surface modelling (as opposed to groups with no calves) for common dolphins showing a more coastal usage of the area when calves are in the groups. Within the Strait of Gibraltar, the Bay of Algeciras has been identified as an area especially important for caring of young common dolphins.
Sub-criterion C2: Feeding Areas
Both species are very frequently observed feeding in the Alborán Sea and Strait of Gibraltar. Data has been gathered in this area from 1992 to 2015 (23 years), in all seasons but mainly in summer. Foraging and feeding have been observed year-round, across all years of study, for both common dolphins and bottlenose dolphins. The distribution of Groups feeding have been modelled through density surface modelling (as opposed to groups not feeding) for common dolphins showing a more coastal usage of the area when feeding. In the Strait of Gibraltar, the Bay of Algeciras has been identified as an important feeding ground for common dolphins, especially at the end of the summer, where dolphins were observed preying on flying fishes, anchovies, sardines. Bottlenose dolphins have been observe actively foraging/feeding in 20% of the encounters, and up to 30% in the shallower waters of the continental shelf (up to 200m depth).
Criterion D: Special Attributes
Sub-criterion D1: Distinctiveness
Genetic research has shown that the common dolphins within the Alborán Sea are genetically different than those in the rest of the Mediterranean. Bottlenose dolphins in the Western Mediterranean are differentiated genetically from those in the Eastern Mediterranean and North East Atlantic. Both nuclear and mtDNA analyses showed clear differentiation between the Ionian and Alboran populations. Considering the relative proximity of these populations, such marked differentiation was unexpected. The common dolphin is a highly mobile species capable of long distance dispersion, confirmed by the lack of strong population structure observed among North and South Atlantic populations. It is further considered that common dolphins within the Alborán Sea may also be distinctive within the Mediterranean region. In a genetic analysis of bottlenose dolphins in the Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea and North East Atlantic show a strong boundary between the western and eastern basins of the Mediterranean Sea, separated by the Italian peninsula. Furthermore, of the five samples collected nearest to the Strait of Gibraltar and Almeria-Oran frontal region, four were near a boundary region in the multi-dimensional scaling plot, supporting the possibility that this oceanic front represents a relevant boundary to gene flow.
Sub-criterion D2: Diversity
The Alborán Sea is an area of high cetacean species diversity including killer whales, sperm whales, long-finned pilot whales, Cuvier’s beaked whales and Risso’s dolphins, striped, common and bottlenose dolphins. Furthermore there are regular, though with less density, presence of migrating fin whales. Additional North Atlantic vagrants make it the area of highest cetacean diversity in the Mediterranean.
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