Cetacean records along the Syrian coast (1991–2021).
The Syrian marine water is one of the least studied areas for cetaceans in the Mediterranean Sea. Lack of basic knowledge, such as species composition and habitat, makes it impossible to develop effective conservation measures. The survey carried out along the Syrian coast by monitoring the stranding individuals on the shore since 2002 showed that there were 11 species of marine mammals living in/or visiting the Syrian marine waters at present of which 10 species belonging to the cetacean order and on belonging to pinnipeds order. The following species have been recorded: Pseudorca crassidens, Megaptera novaeangliae, Physeter macrocephalus, Tursiops truncatus, Stenella coeruleoalba, Delphinus delphis, Ziphius cavirostris, Grampus griseus, Balaenoptera physalus, Balaenoptera acutorostrata, and Manchus manchus. On the other hand, there are four species whose presence in the Syrian marine waters was mentioned a century ago by the researcher Gruvel and his team during three missions (1929–1931), but neither alive nor dead have been seen in this area during the surveys that were carried out since 1996 until the present, these species are: Phocoena phocoena, Globicephalus melas, Phocoena communis, Hyperoodon rostratus, Balaenoptera musculus. These observations reflect the vulnerability of marine mammals to anthropogenic activities, such as fishing operations, shipping, seismic activities, and climate change.
- marine mammals
- climatic changes
- Mediterranean Sea
Although the Mediterranean constitutes only less than 1% of the total area of the world’s oceans and seas, it contains 18% of the world’s marine biodiversity and contains 28 species of marine mammals (resident, visiting, or roving) that have occurred in the Mediterranean. The species that studies and surveys have proven to be endemic to the Mediterranean are: 11 species of cetaceans: fin whale (
Interactions between marine mammals and commercial fisheries have occurred for centuries and the interactions do not seem to decline. Bycatch, i.e., the unwanted or incidental catch of species other than the target species, is a severe problem in conservation biology and a potential threat to the future survival of marine mammal populations. Marine mammal’s populations decline is considered to be an important issue in terms of the biodiversity of vulnerable species and numerous cases of stranding have been documented in the Mediterranean Sea were particularly in the eastern part of the basin .
This chapter includes: (1) A review of the available information and data about marine mammals in Syria a century ago; (2) Presentation of the results of the continuous monitoring that we started implementing in 2002 on the stranding of individuals of marine mammals on the Syrian coast; (3) Results of a field survey study at sea onboard research ships Yunis S for a week during August 2008 in partnership with a team from the Faculty of Fisheries at Istanbul University, within the framework of a joint Syrian-Turkish-Lebanese research program; (4) Results of a field survey study at sea that was carried out onboard an Okeanos boat during the month of September 2019; (5) Presentation of the threats that threaten marine mammals in Syria; (6) Presentation of laws and regulations related to the protection of marine mammals in Syria.
We have included below the map of the Syrian coast (Figure 1) to clarify the approximate geographical locations that are mentioned when talking about the stranding sites of cetaceans and monk seals on the Syrian coast.
2. The results of Gruvel’s work 1929–1931
There is only one pinniped on the coasts of Syria and even then, it is quite rare—it is the monk seal (
All those who have traveled in the Mediterranean know the common dolphins
Among the Physeteridae, we can point out as making rare appearances in this part of the eastern Mediterranean , the largest of all—the Sperm whale (
A few years ago (before 1931), a Hispano-Norwegian cetacean hunting company was established near Algeciras (Spain). It hunted both sperm whales and, above all, whales, in the proportion of one of the former against 20 of the latter.
However, these large marine mammals are not confined to the approaches to the Strait of Gibraltar; they penetrate widely into the Mediterranean and have been observed fairly often in the eastern Mediterranean, off Port Said, and even beyond, on the coasts of Palestine and Syria, sporadically, however.
Among the other Physeteridae, he notes, in the Mediterranean,
The Baleinidae family is also represented, at least by two species. The largest in size is
A much smaller species, often referred to as the dwarf whale, has also been reported in the Mediterranean—it is
These are the main species of Cetaceans that frequent the Mediterranean in general and which are found, sporadically, on the coasts of Syria. Their number is completely insufficient to justify the industrial exploitation of these mammals .
3. Results of stranding monitoring of marine mammals during 1991–2021
Data on stranding marine mammals have been collected in different areas along the Syrian coast (Figure 2). In each case, the site was documented, the stranding individual described and the taxonomic position determined using scientifically approved identification keys [6, 7]. This survey of cetaceans stranded along the Syrian coastline (2002–2021) and a review of the literature allowed us to record a total number of 30 stranding events from 1991 to 2021. They included three species of Balaenopteridae, one species of Physeteridae, one species of Ziphidae, five species of Delphinidae, and one species of Phocidae (Tables 1 and 2).
|20/06/1991||South of Latakia||D||Skull found on the beach |
|–||02/10/02||North Latakia||Live||Filmed by Saad |
|M||11/3/2005||Om Altiour 50 km North of Latakia||D||495 cm, SSAEP|
|M||5/04/03||North Tartous||D||Male, 785 cm |
|M||25/4/2005||Tartous||D||1045 cm |
|–||16/9/2005||North Latakia||D||Saad |
|–||9/3/2006||Ibn Hani||D||Saad |
|M||8/10/2006||Ibn Hani||D||Floating adrift, male, tied with a rope, possibly after bycatch|
|–||8/4/2007||Ibn Hani||D||A. Saad SSAEP|
|–||12/4/2007||Harbor of Banias||D||Stranded dead, 315 cm, old age (based on worn-out teeth)|
|–||4/05/2007||Ibn Hani 10 km N of Latakia||D||223 cm, likely killed by a large propeller (deep parallel cuts on the body)|
|–||12/7/2007||South of Tartus||D||A long-decomposed corpse on land near the shore|
|F||8/9/07||Jable||Live||Recorded by A. Saad and SSAEP |
|–||11/2/08||North Latakia||D||A. Saad SSAEP|
|F||3/03/2008||South Jable (Rmielah)||D||SSAEP 290 cm (very young female)|
|–||18/10/2019||North of Latakia (Debjeat)||Live was returned to the sea ||Informations provide by SSAEP|
|F||7/03/2020||North of Tartus (Alkhrab)||D||Str. L = 3 m, SSAEP|
|Species||Scientific name||Number of sighting||Mean group size||Max group size|
Recently, many marine mammal species have been observed along the Syrian coast may be for feeding or breeding, or migration behavior, but the most realistic reason, from our point of view, is to increase scientific monitoring along the Syrian coast, as well as to raise awareness of fishermen about the importance of reporting their sightings to the research team at the Syrian Society for the Protection of the Aquatic Environment and at Tishreen University, Which allowed the recorded of several stranding every year in different areas on the Syrian coast [8, 9, 10, 11, 12], as summarized them in Table 1, bearing in mind that there may be a few stranding that was not monitored, perhaps because of the remoteness of the area or the lack of reporting. Hence, our objective in this work is to compile and review the records and strandings of marine mammals along the Syrian coast and to provide further suggestions to protect these vulnerable species.
4. Results of a field survey onboard research ships Yunis S in August 2008
In partnership with a team from the Faculty of Fisheries—Istanbul University, within the framework of a joint Syrian–Turkish–Lebanese research program.
To determine the species composition, size, and distribution of the cetacean population, sighting data were collected during a research cruise carried out in summer (July 11–24, 2008) in the international water of the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, as well as the Turkish, Lebanese and Syrian territorial waters. This research cruise was conducted with a 32-m research vessel YUNUS—from the faculty of fisheries—at Istanbul University. The average speed of the vessel was 8–10 nautical miles/h. At each cetacean sighting, date and time, species, the group size of animals, location (coordinates), depth, sea state, and the behavior of animals were recorded by a single observer placed on the bridge deck.
Totally 860 nautical miles of survey effort were made and 16 sightings (108 animals) were recorded. During the study, 5
5. Results of a field survey on abundance and distribution of cetaceans in the Syrian waters of the ACCOBAMS Agreement
In the framework of participating in the work of the ASI1 project launched at the Sixth Meeting of the Parties in ACCOBAMS2 (Monaco, 22–25 November 2016), with the aim of creating an integrated, collaborative, and coordinated monitoring system of the state of cetaceans within the ACCOBAMS region (Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea, and Contiguous Atlantic Area), which was developed and implemented by the permanent secretariat of ACCOBAMS, in coordination and with the support of the riparian countries of the Mediterranean and local scientists, the author led a team of local experts. Researchers and trainees conducted visual surveys in Syrian territorial waters , where surveys were conducted onboard a ship chartered by the ASI Project called Okeanos, on two sets of perpendicular tracks on the coast (Figure 3) during the period: July 27 until August 8, and included 431 km of effort on track. The tracks cut a few miles from the Lebanese and Turkish borders. During the survey, five cetacean species were documented by sightings (Table 2) (Figure 4) [14, 15].
6. Monk seal
The Mediterranean monk seal (
These species are threatened by human activity and environmental pollution. More than 32 sightings of this animal have been recorded in the waters of the Syrian coast between 1996 and 2021. On July 22, 2013, a female Mediterranean monk seal was found carrying a full fetus (Figure 5), who had mistakenly killed someone who had infiltrated the main port with the aim of sabotaging. The victim’s mother and her chick were placed in two fiberglass basins filled with formalin. On December 12, 2021, the presence of two seals was documented in a cave on the seashore in the Samra region on the Syrian
In addition, according to local residents and fishermen, there are eight seals that were seen intermittently roaming the waters between Burj Islam, Wadi Qandil (20 km north of Latakia), and Samra, on the Turkish
Before the end of this chapter, we have compiled the results of previous and current work in Table 3, which shows a comparison between the species of marine that were previously documented nearly a century ago and those whose existence has been documented in Syrian waters during the last two decades.
|Suborder||Family||Species||Scientific name||Reg/vis||Gruvel 1931||2002–2020|
|Order Cetartiodactyla, Infraorder: Cetacea|
|=||Long-finned pilot whale||Absent||+||–|
|=||False killer whale||Visitor|
|Balaenidae||North Atlantic right whale, is||Absent|
|Ziphidae||Cuvier’s beaked whales||Regular|
|Pinnipedia||Phocidae||Mediterranean monk seal||Regular|
In this work, marine mammals in the Syrian waters (the Levant Basin) and the changes that have occurred in their qualitative composition have been documented for about a hundred years now. Hence, it is of great importance, and the results showed that the Syrian waters and those of the neighboring countries have become a visiting area for many marine mammals that have not been previously observed, and more cases of stranding have been observed and documented, as this is attributed to the fragility of marine mammals in front of various human activities, such as increasing fishing operations associated with the diversity and efficiency of fishing gear, and the rise in commercial shipping and seismic activities. There are four species whose presence in the Syrian marine waters was mentioned a century ago, but neither alive nor dead have been seen in this area since 1996. The repeated sightings of many species (Lives or strandings) may be due to climatic changes which affect their migration and mobility from one place to another. Stakeholders should pay more attention to marine mammals in Syria through increased awareness, and the continuous monitoring, documentation, and mapping of recorded strandings to further suggest measures on how to protect such important and vulnerable species.
We thank the members of the Syrian Society for the Aquatic Protection who have made and are still exerting great efforts in monitoring stranded marine mammals on the Syrian coast, as well as the fishermen who cooperated with us by reporting many individuals of stranded whales and dolphins.
Conflict of interest
The authors declare no conflict of interest.
Humpback whale stranded in Tartous, March 12th, 2003.
Bottlenose dolphin in the sea 15 km North of Latakia, 1 October 2002.
Sperm whale stranded in Tartuous Beach, April 18th, 2005.
Bottlenose dolphin in Ibn Hani, 10 km North of Latakia, April 2006.
Striped dolphin in Shkaifat beach, 15 km South of Latakia, 9 September 2007. He was returned alive to the sea, and 2 days later he was seen dead on the beach 2 km north.
Bottlenose dolphin. At the port of catch landing in Latakia by-catch with nets, it was returned to the sea. 28 October 2019.
Risso’s dolphin on the beach 12 km South of Tartus city July 2012.
Cuvier’s beaked whales. In Ibn Hani Bay (10 km North of Latakia), 9 March 2006.
Cuvier’s beaked whales in Alhamidea beach (20 km South of Tartus) July, 2010.
Minke whell. On Alkhrab beach (15 km North of Tartus city) 7 March 2020.
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- Accobams Survey Initiative.
- Agreement on the Conservation of Cetaceans of the Black Sea, the Mediterranean Sea, and Contiguous Atlantic Area.