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Sperm whale migration route identified in Bay of Biscay

20/01/2009 16:26:09 Researchers from the Biscay Dolphin Research Programme have monitored a Sperm Whale migration through the Bay of Biscay

January 2009. On a return crossing through the Bay of Biscay, researchers from the Biscay Dolphin Research Programme (BDRP) encountered a suspected Sperm Whale migration from the P&O Cruise Ferry, The Pride of Bilbao, which coincides with sightings at the same time of year in 2007.

Sperm Whales are the largest of the toothed whales and feed on large squid species which they hunt at incredible depths - deeper than any submarine can reach. The species is normally recorded individually most months throughout the year by BDRP in the deep waters of the Bay of Biscay, which plunges to a depth of over 4000 meters.

11 whales spotted
However, a crossing in mid September 2008 was a more unusual encounter, with an increase in the numbers of whales observed. In total 11 animals were seen, almost to the day that 22 animals were seen the previous year. The animals were moving south, consistent with a southerly migration and through the deeper waters of the slope of the continental shelf, which not only provides a rich feeding habitat but may also possibly be used as a navigational aid.

Dr Tom Brereton, BDRP Research Director commented: "Sperm Whales are monitored by BDRP throughout the year in the Bay of Biscay and we have established a photo-identification catalogue to confirm whether the animals we see in the Bay of Biscay are the same ones present in the early summer off Norway and other parts of northern Europe".

Sperm Whale are known to be migratory, the larger males tend to move towards the cooler polar regions during the summer months to feed and return to warmer breeding waters during the winter to join the smaller females. The monitoring of a migration through Biscay again highlights the importance of Biscay in European terms for the Sperm Whale.

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