Subject: spanish whale identification

Mike Williamson (m.dalebout@auckland.ac.nz)
Thu, 18 Sep 1997 3:27:17 GMT+1200

To:            telfyn.beddoe@gecm.com
Subject:       spanish whale identification
Date:          Thu, 18 Sep 1997 3:25:37

Dear Telfyn, 

You asked about the possible species identity of a whale a friend of yours saw in 
Spanish waters which he described only as being dark, about 40 feet long and with a tail about 5 feet wide.
You're right, that's not much to go on. Considering the area he was in it is possible that it was either a fin
 whale (Balaenoptera physalus) or a sei whale (Balaenoptera borealis), but without more details it's hard to say.
I'll give you a bit more information about these species, and you can check with your friend to see what conforms
with the animal he saw.

The fin whale is the second in size only to the blue whale and can grow up to 85 feet long, but on 
average is usually much smaller. It is usually darker in colour than the sei whale, but there is a lot
of variation, from silvery grey to dark grey to even a brownish black. A distinguishing feature of this species
is the asymmetrical pigmentation on the head, with the lower 'lip' being dark on left side and white on the right
side. This white 'lip' is often visible when the whale is swimming just below the surface. Fin whales rarely
show their flukes but they are also white on the underside, as are the flippers.

The sei whale is a smaller species, with adult length ranging from about 40 - 52 feet. They are predominantly
bluish grey, but dark grey or black individuals have also been recorded. This species also rarely shows its 
flukes, but they are grey on underside as well as above, as are the flippers. Both sides of the mouth are the 
same colour - pale grey to white.

Hope this helps.....

You also inquired about the possibility of diving with whales in the Mediterranean. I'm afraid I can't help 
you there. I checked out the Mediterranean tourism homepage and they had no mention of it (nor of
scuba diving actually), and several other searches I did also had no mention of swim-with-whales operations
in that area. It's possible there are some, but on a very small local scale and so hard to find until you are actually
in the region. Note however that the majority of swim-with-dolphin/whale tourist operations are not required to assess the 
possible impact of the animals they are exploiting before they set up their business nor to help fund scientific research 
that could help protect these species in the future. There are exceptions, but over all I personally would not advocate
this activity. If however you are diving and happen to see a whale by chance, great, but to force your presence on
these animals, often in areas where they have traditionally gathered to feed or breed....

Sorry I can't be of more assistance there

Hope you have a good time in the med anyway

cheers

merel
***********************************
Ms. Merel Dalebout
Ecology & Evolution Research Group
Thomas Building, Level 1
School of Biological Sciences
University of Auckland
Private Bag 92-019
Wellesley Street
Auckland, N.Z.
Ph:09-373-7599 ext. 4588
Fax: 09-373-7417
e-mail: m.dalebout@auckland.ac.nz