OVER 200 fin whales are currently travelling down the east coast of Spain and south towards the Strait of Gibraltar on their annual migration back to the Atlantic Ocean.
However, marine experts stress that the whales should be left alone to swim in peace.
These giants, which can grow up to 24 metres (79 feet) long, have been spotted frequently in recent days off the coast of Valencia and Murcia.
Videos have emerged on social media of curious people coming within 50 metres of the whales, which is prohibited by law.
Experts at the University of Sevilla and the EDMAKTUB Association (a research body devoted to the protection of fin whales) say that coming too close to the whales can scare and disorient them.
The whales panic and begin fleeing, in the opposite direction to their natural migratory pattern.
Indeed, Wednesday (July 7) an 18m long fin whale was found trapped and disoriented in the Real Club Naútica in Valencia. Fortunately, after many hours and many failed attempts, the maritime police and a conservation NGO called Xaloc, finally managed to guide the unlucky creature to the mouth of the port and out to sea.
The fin whales enter the Mediterranean Sea through the Strait in December and January, and swim all the way up to the Catalan coast. They feast on krill around 150m off the coast during the spring months, before migrating back into the Atlantic for the rest of the year.
The government of Gibraltar published an advisory note on Wednesday instructing people on how to treat any kind of sea mammal.
The government obliges everyone to stick to three key rules:
- You must leave their paths unobstructed – do not intercept them and allow them free range of movement in all directions
- All boats must remain at least 300m away from dolphins and whales if the animals are accompanied by children. And within 500m of the cetaceans, boats must not travel faster than 4 knots, or as fast as the slowest member of the herd. Under no circumstances, apart from an emergency, are boats to come within 60m of the animals.
- If the whales or dolphins, themselves, move within 60m of the boat, you must switch off the engine if possible.
Fins whales (Balaenoptera physalus) are the second largest whales after the Blue Whale and the largest found in Mediterranean waters. They can grow to lengths of above 24 meters (79 ft).
The WWF classifies the fin whale as an endangered species with a population estimated at between 50,000-90,000.
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