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The recent fate of two whales once again highlights how it is influenced by us humans. The one, a young sperm whale, was spotted in June north of Sicily, entangled in fishing gear. The other, an adult female fin whale, was first sighted on the eastern coast of Greece and then crossed the Strait of Sicily into the Ligurian Sea. Its peculiarity: The fin whale had lost its entire fluke.

Two whales of different kinds, in the same sea, the Mediterranean, exposed to similar threats posed by humans. Sperm whales, but also all the other species of whales and dolphins, sea turtles and seabirds, get caught in abandoned and lost fishing gear in their thousands. Whether drift nets, which are banned in European waters since 2002 and in the whole Mediterranean since 2005, or fishing gear deliberately discarded at sea – without countermeasures, they bring certain death to all the animals that get entangled in them. Considering that on average some 25,000 nets, on average 1,250 kilometres long, go overboard every year in European waters alone, the enormous scale of this threat becomes obvious.

In the case of the female fin whale, experts are uncertain as to whether the fluke had been cut off by a ship or had been amputated by entanglement in fishing gear. However, we learned to know some details about this whale that are deeply concerning and saddening.

Farewell to “Codamozza”

Our partner organisation in Italy, the Tethys Research Institute, whose scientific work has been receiving support by OceanCare for many years, managed to recognise the whale by comparing photo identification material. It was first sighted by Tethys in 1996. At the time, the whale had already lost large parts of the left half of its fluke. It was thus named “Codamozza” (cut fluke) and remained an enigma to science, as it is extremely exertive to travel and find prey with such a handicap. Now, after losing the entire fluke, which happened to the state of knowledge in late 2019, the days of this famous whale are numbered.

“Codamozza was last observed in the Gulf of Toulon a few days ago. She was extremely emaciated, with very reduced movements. We fear she may now have died and sunk in the area. We are of course deeply saddened by this fate, and we will do our best to strengthen mitigation measures to avoid further cases,” said Simone Panigada, fin whale expert and President of Tethys Research Institute.

“We cannot help Codamozza anymore, but her fate mandates us even more to make the oceans a better and safer place for whales and all other marine creatures,” said Sigrid Lüber, President of OceanCare.

The young sperm whale which got entangled in floating fishing gear in June, was freed by the Italian coast guard. Three of its conspecifics were waiting nearby for their group member to return.

 

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