Project Ziphius Alborán


Project “Identificación de las áreas críticas para zifios en el mar de Alborán, delimitación del Área Prioritaria de Conservación y bases para el establecimiento de un Plan de Gestión”. Funded by the Ministerio de Medio Ambiente y Medio Rural y Marino.



The aims of this project were:

1) Compilation and analysis of all the available scientific information on Cuvier's beaked whales in the Alboran Sea, including abundance and distribution. 

2) Compilation of the all the available information on Marine Protected Areas for beaked whales in other parts of the world, and their associated management plans, if they exist. 

3) Compilation and analysis of the available information on athropogenic threats on the beaked whaes in the Alboran Sea. 

4) Development of a reasoned proposal of priority area for the conservation of beaked whales in the Alboran Sea, including the critical areas for the species. 

5) Development of a proposal for the basis for a Management Plan for the proposed Marine Protected Area. 


Propuesta de Área Prioritaria de conservación:

The final selection of the area (Priority Area for Conservation) was made beased in the models results (spatial modelling of the habitat) and the distribution of the sightings, to define the areas with highest support from data. In this way, areas comprising the highest 40% of abundance from the whole distribution area for the species were selected, making the limits coincide with the 1000m isobath and slightly extending the northern section to include the waters with highest support from data from sightings. 

It was also recommended the establishment of  a buffer area around the Priority Area for Conservation, in the terms recommended by ACCOBAMS during the 7th meeting of its Scientific Committee in 2011 ("b. based on existing knowledge of noise disturbance thresholds, beaked whales should not be exposed to received levels greater than SPL 140 dB re 1 μPa @ 1 m;   c. it was therefore recommended to apply a safety buffer around the preferred habitat mentioned in a) so that the threshold would not be exceeded").

Given that the received noise levels depend on factors such as depth and the physical characteristics of the water masses, the emission levels and teh distance from the source of emission, it is not possible to define an area geographically delimited for this buffer. Therefore, the following was recommended: 

1. To analyze on a case by case basis the activities producing the underwater noise in the Alboran Sea, especially the military manoeuvres and the oil and gas exploration activities. 

2. When one of these activities is going to be carried out, its responsible entity should do a specific environmental impact assessment to determine, according the emission levels and the physiographic and oceanographic conditions of the area, the minimum distance that should be kept from the borders of the Priority Area for Conservation, so that the level of  SPL 140 dB re 1 µPa @ 1 m is not exceeded at and inside such borders. 

Zonation of the Priority Area for Conservation.
Zone A (very high density): red line, Zone B (high density): purple line, zone C (medium density): black line.


Proposal for the basis for a Management Plan:

1. Military manoeuvres and other high intensity man-made noise (High priority)

1.a. Information for the stakeholders

1.b. Exclusion of the critical area

1.c. Environmental Impact assessments taking into account the buffer zone. 

2. Drif nets (High priority)

2.a. Surveillance, control and implementation of the law

3. Drifting plastics (Medium priority)

3.a. Awareness



Thos work was possible thanks to the collaboration, suggestions and comments provided by Giuseppe Notarbartolo di Sciara (ACCOBAMS, Italy), Peter Tyack (WHOI, US), Sarah Dolman (WDCS, UK), Lindy Weilgart (Dalhousie University, Canada), Ricardo Aguilar (Oceana, Spain), Paul MacNab (Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Canada) and Erich Hoyt (WDCS, UK). Special thanks are due to Erika Urquiola (SECAC, Canary Islands) for her detailed review of the report and her very valuable inputs.

The analysis and results presented in the report of this project are part of the project “Beaked whales and pilot whales in the Alboran Sea (SW Mediterranean): research towards improved science-based mitigation strategies for risks from man-made sound”: Awards nº N000140910536 (ALNITAK) and N000141010709 (ALNILAM) funded by ONR (Office for Naval Research). Data collected onboard the vessel Alliance in 2008 during the survey SIRENA 08 were funded by the program Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program (SERDP), contract SI-1539. Research was conducted under permit NMFS 981-1707. Data collected onboard the vessel Alliance in 2009 during the survey MED09 were funded by the Office of Naval Research (ONR), contract N00014-09-10528. Research was conducted under permit NMFS 14241. Data collected onboard the Fisheries Patrol boat Riscos de Famara were provided by the General Secretariat for the Sea (MAMRM) in collaboration with Alnitak during the projects LIFE02NAT/E/8610 and LIFE+INDEMARES. The use of the data collected onboard the vessel Thomas Donagh (2009) was possible thanks to the funding of ACCOBAMS and Fundación Biodiversidad during the project “Train theTrainers”. Data collected on board the Toftevaag were obtained through several projects carried out by Alnitak and funded by Fundación Biodiversidad, Ministerio de Medio Ambiente, Medio Rural y Marino, Spanish Cetacean Society, Earthwatch and many volunteers.

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