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Visitors to the Straits of Gibraltar

The animals we will now be describing can be seen locally from time to time and we set below the principle characteristics to enable you to identify them. They are:

Mysticeti - The Sperm Whale
Length: 50ft
Weight: 40 tons.
Speed: 3-20mph
Life Span: 40 years.

The largest of the toothed cetaceans, which is distinguished by the enormous head a third of the body length. There is no pronounced dorsal fin except for a small bump 2/3 along the back followed by a series of smaller ones towards the tail. The lateral fins are short and stubby. The overall colour is a dark greyish brown with lighter patches indiscriminately placed and becoming more prominent with age. This is the Great White Whale that featured in Melville's book "Moby Dick". Able to dive to depths of 10,000 ft. and remain submerged for periods of up to an hour and a half where it feeds on giant squid. To the tune of a ton a day!

The Humpback Whale
Length: 60ft.
Weight: 40 tons
Speed: 4-20 mph
Life Span: 30-40 years.

The only Baleen whale to be found in the Straits of Gibraltar on a regular basis. Very occasionally found in the Bay of Gibraltar. Noted for the incredible songs they sing, of which there are many commercial records available, including one that reached Top of the Pops!

Easily recognised by the extremely long white lateral fins and vertically held tail with white underside, seen when it sounds. A further means of identification is the balloon of spray when it blows.

Feeds mainly, when in Gibraltar, on anchovies and small fish, consuming about 5 cwt a day. Thanks to commercial whaling there are about 1500 left in the North Atlantic and possibly only 5000 in the whole world!

Odontoceti - The Killer Whale
Length: 30ft.
Weight: 7-8 tons.
Speed: 32 mph.
Life Span: 30 years.

The most powerful hunter amongst the cetaceans, distinguished by the dorsal fin which in the case of the male is 6ft high and comes to a vertical point and is not recurving. The lateral fins are long and paddle shaped. The colour, black above, white below, with a prominent white patch behind the eyes. Will hunt and feed on virtually any living creature found in the sea, except man! Often seen in captivity where they consume up to 100 lbs of mixed fish a day.

False Killer Whale
Length: 18ft.
Weight: 2 tons.
Speed: 15 mph.
Life Span: 35 years.

The most vocal of the Odontoceti, having an astonishing range of sounds that would appear to be a language. The dorsal fin is positioned halfway along the back and is low and recurved. The lateral fins are slim and pointed. Colour is black overall. Although has large teeth, feeds principally on squid and medium sized fish of which it consumes about 60 lbs a day.

Long Fin Pilot Whale
Length: 20ft.
Weight: 2 tons.
Speed: 15mph.
Life Span: 3 years.

Similar in appearance to the False Killer Whale but with lower aspect ratio dorsal fins. Large round heads. The lateral fins are long and slender. Colour is basically black with a white stripe underneath. Eats a mixture of squid and mackerel sized fish about 70 lbs a day.

Common Dolphin
Length: 7-8ft.
Weight: 180 lbs.
Speed: 40+ mph.
Life Span: 25 years.

One of the best known of the whole of the cetacean family. These lovable creatures can be seen on any day in the bay of Gibraltar and are the subject of much folklore since time immemorial, as they are extremely friendly. The dorsal fin is halfway along the back and is recurved. The lateral fins are of medium size. They have a prominent beaky nose, which is a development of the upper and lower jaws. Colour, back dark grey to brown, underside pale grey to light yellow, occasionally with tinges of pink present, the whole effect being as if the animal was wearing a saddle on its back. Thus its American name "Saddle Back Dolphin". Food is mostly sprats, sardines and herrings etc., of which they take about 10 lbs a day.

The Striped Dolphin
Length: 6-8 ft.
Weight: 150lbs.
Speed: 30 mph.
Life Span: 25 years.

In all respects very similar to the Common Dolphin but slightly more slender and instead of the hour glass or saddle pattern, the top half is uniformly dark and is divided from the lighter bottom half by a prominent dark line running from eye to vent. Very common in the Bay of Gibraltar where they feed on Sardines and Shrimps.

Bottle Nosed Dolphin
Length: 9-12ft.
Weight: 400lbs
Speed: 30mph
Life Span: 25 years.

These are the dolphins that we have all seen in Dolphinaria and on TV. They also have been known to mankind for many thousands of years. In recent times there have been reports of them appearing off beaches along the south coast of England and giving rides to children. They have a prominent beak. The dorsal fin is prominent and recurved, the lateral fins being strong in appearance and of average size. Colour is blue grey and varies from light to dark. They will eat most forms of fish life found in the sea in quantities up to 25 lbs a day.

The following vantage points on land, offer a chance to observe cetaceans in the wild.

Europa Pt. In strong easterlies where they often play in the surf.

SE off Punta Carnero on the Western side of the Bay.

At the Northern end of the Bay, close inshore to the western side of the oil refinery. (See general map)

We hope that all of the foregoing will be of interest and help to those of you who may wish to see these lovely animals in their natural habitat. We have tried to answer those questions that we are most often asked, when running excursions in the Bay of Gibraltar on board the "Dolphin Safari".