Category Archives: Marine mammals

Spain is home to a diverse array of marine mammals, thanks to its long coastline and position at the confluence of the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. Some of the most notable marine mammals found in Spanish waters include the common dolphin, the bottlenose dolphin, and the long-finned pilot whale.

Spain is also home to the Mediterranean monk seal, one of the world’s most endangered seals in the world, and several species of whales and porpoises, such as the fin whale, the sperm whale, and the harbour porpoise.

These animals are essential components of Spain’s marine ecosystems, playing important roles in maintaining the health and balance of the ocean’s food chains. However, like many other marine mammals around the world, they face threats from human activities such as fishing, pollution, and climate change.

Killer whale – Orcinus orca – Orca

The killer whale, scientifically known as Orcinus orca or simply orca in Spanish, is a highly intelligent and social marine mammal. It is the largest member of the dolphin family and can be found in oceans all over the world, including off the coast of Spain.

The Iberian orcas belong to the type found usually in the Macaronesia area (Canary Islands, Azores, Madeira, Cape Verde) and around the whole Atlantic coastline of the Iberian Peninsula. There are 3 main populations; Azorean, Canarian and Iberian. It seems that none of the populations cross the Strait into the Mediterranean Sea, if it happens, it’s usually very rare and ends with orcas turning back soon or dying because of the lack of prey (The reason to their presence in this sea, being possibly explained by disease and/or disorientation). (See

Tarifa: Orca, Whale, and Dolphin Watching Cruise

Sail along the Strait of Gibraltar in a UNESCO international biosphere reserve on this cetaceans watching tour from Tarifa. Enjoy seeing killer whales and other cetaceans in their natural environment.

Iberian orcas can often be seen in the Strait of Gibraltar area, the narrow waterway that connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea. This population is estimated at around 60 individuals which visit the south of the Iberian Peninsula between late spring and early autumn and then travel north during the winter, following the migration of Bluefin Tuna, which is, its main prey.


Killer whales in Spanish waters are known for their distinctive behaviors and hunting techniques. They have been observed preying on various marine mammals, such as dolphins and seals. In the Strait of Gibraltar, they have been documented using a technique called carousel feeding, where they swim in circles to create a wave that washes over a target prey animal, making it easier for them to catch it.

These Spanish killer whales have attracted the interest of researchers and conservationists due to their unique behaviors and their relatively small population size. Efforts are being made to study and protect these magnificent creatures to ensure their long-term survival.


Killer whales have a complex social structure and live in matrilineal groups known as pods. A typical pod consists of related females and their offspring, led by the oldest and most experienced female, known as the matriarch. Male killer whales, or bulls, usually live with their natal pod until they reach sexual maturity, after which they may leave to join other pods or form smaller bachelor groups.

Killer whales have a long lifespan, with females living up to 50-80 years or more, and males generally living around 30-50 years. They reach sexual maturity between the ages of 10 and 15 years, although the exact age can vary among populations.

Diet and Habits

Killer whales are apex predators and have a diverse diet that can vary depending on their geographical location and the specific population. They are known to be highly adaptable and have been observed feeding on fish, squid, marine mammals (such as seals, sea lions, and dolphins), and even other whales. The diet of a killer whale can be categorized into two main types:

  • Fish-Eating: Some populations of killer whales primarily feed on fish, such as salmon, herring, and other species found in their habitats. They may use sophisticated hunting strategies, like cooperative hunting and corralling fish into tight groups using “bubble” nets.
  • Mammal-Eating: Other populations, often referred to as “transient” or “mammal-eating” killer whales, have a diet that mainly consists of marine mammals. They hunt seals, sea lions, dolphins, and sometimes even larger whales. These killer whales often exhibit different hunting techniques, like stealthy approaches and coordinated attacks.

It’s important to note that diet preferences can vary between killer whale populations, and some populations may specialize in certain prey types depending on local availability and ecological factors.

Killer whales are highly intelligent and have a range of complex social behaviors and vocalizations that they use to communicate within their pods. They are considered top predators in the marine ecosystem and play a crucial role in maintaining the balance of their respective habitats.

Attacks on boats in Spanish waters

Over the years, there have been reports of interactions between killer whales and boats (especially sailing) in Spanish waters. These incidents have received media attention and raised concerns among boaters and researchers. In more recent years, there have been several documented cases of killer whales approaching and interacting with boats in Spanish coastal areas. These interactions have involved behaviors such as bumping, ramming, and damaging boats, particularly sailboats. While the reasons behind these interactions are not entirely clear there are a few hypotheses:

  • Playful behavior: Some experts believe that these interactions may be a form of play for the killer whales. Like other intelligent animals, they may be curious and interact with objects in their environment, including boats.
  • Mistaken identity: It’s possible that the killer whales are mistaking boats for their prey. The vibrations and sounds generated by boats could resemble the echolocation cues they use to locate and hunt marine mammals.
  • Defensive behavior: Another theory suggests that the killer whales may be exhibiting defensive behavior, possibly due to previous negative interactions with boats or out of a desire to protect their young.

The latest studies seem to imply that the defensive behaviour is mostly likely for this behaviour but It’s important to note that these interactions are relatively rare and not representative of typical killer whale behavior. While they can be intimidating and potentially cause damage to boats, there have been no reports of serious injuries to humans resulting from these interactions.

This video was taken in northern Spain.

Researchers and authorities continue to monitor these incidents and work towards better understanding the behavior of killer whales in the area. Efforts are being made to educate boaters on how to responsibly interact with marine wildlife and minimize potential conflicts.

Geo tagging Spanish Killer whale – Orcinus orca – Orca in 2023

One of the approximately sixty killer whales that inhabit Spanish waters, particularly in the Strait of Gibraltar and the Galician coast, has taken on the task of carrying a GPS tag embedded in its fin. This GPS tag serves to signal the presence of the killer whales and help prevent negative interactions with sailboats.

Killer whale – Orcinus orca – Orca
The Reference space for research, education, and conservation on the marine environment in the scope of the Iberian Peninsula. (Espacio de referencia para la investigación, educación y conservación sobre el medio marino en el ámbito de la Península Ibérica):

By using satellite tagging, the GPS tag on this particular killer whale has facilitated the creation of the first in a series of weekly maps. These maps, developed by the Ministry for the Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge, provide valuable information to navigators about the whereabouts of killer whale families. Navigators can then avoid these areas to ensure the safety of both the sailboats and the killer whales.

Further reading
Important key points in this article
  • Satellite tagging of killer whales will enable the creation of weekly maps by the Ministry for the Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge, providing information to navigators about the location of killer whale families.
  • Maritime Rescue has assisted and towed 24 sailboats in 2023 that encountered killer whales in the Strait of Gibraltar, surpassing the number of rescues in previous years.
  • The cause behind the killer whales’ interactions with sailboats remains unclear, and various theories have been proposed, including playful behavior, revenge, or training of the young.
  • Measures have been taken to temporarily restrict sailboat navigation in certain areas and study these new behaviors of the killer whales.
  • Satellite marking has been undertaken in collaboration with the Cetacean Conservation, Information, and Study (CIRCE) platform to gather data and draw maps to identify areas of risk.
  • Maritime safety authorities have issued recommendations to boaters, such as motorizing instead of sailing and heading towards shallower waters in case of interactions with orcas.
  • Skippers are encouraged to report interactions and provide photographic records of the orcas involved.

See the full list of mammalls in Spain here:

Ronda Today

Everything you need to know before you visit Ronda “The city of dreams” in Andalucia.

The Caminito del Rey

Find tickets for the Caminito del Rey:

Wildside Holidays – Spain

Take a trip on the Wildside! Discover the wildlife and nature of Spain, its Natural and National Parks and find the top wildlife, activity and walking holiday companies.

Visit Cádiz

Planning on visiting Cádiz? Tourist information. Monuments. Hotels. Activities. City guides.

Short-finned pilot whale – Globicephala macrorhynchus – Calderón tropical

The Short-finned pilot whale – Globicephala macrorhynchus – Calderón tropical is a large, deep-diving whale found in tropical and subtropical waters around the world. With their distinctive black or dark gray coloration, rounded forehead, and prominent dorsal fin, these highly social animals are known for traveling in groups of 10 to over 100 individuals and are capable of diving to depths of up to 600 meters in search of their prey. While their conservation status is currently classified as “Data Deficient,” the Short-finned pilot whale is protected under national law in Spain

Top image:

Whale and dolphin watching in Spain
Physical Characteristics

The Short-finned pilot whale, also known as the tropical pilot whale or Calderón tropical, is a member of the dolphin family, Delphinidae. They are large, robust whales with a rounded forehead, a prominent dorsal fin, and short, stocky flippers. The body coloration is mostly black or dark gray, with a lighter patch on the belly and throat. Adult males can reach lengths of up to 6.5 meters (21 feet) and weigh up to 3,000 kilograms (6,600 pounds), while adult females are slightly smaller, reaching lengths of up to 5.5 meters (18 feet) and weighing up to 1,500 kilograms (3,300 pounds).

Habitat and Behavior

Short-finned pilot whales are found in tropical and subtropical waters around the world, including the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans. They are highly social animals, traveling in groups of 10 to over 100 individuals, and often remain in their natal groups for life. They are deep divers, capable of reaching depths of up to 600 meters (1,970 feet) in search of squid and fish. Pilot whales are known for their mass stranding behavior, where large groups of animals will beach themselves together, often resulting in the death of many individuals.


Short-finned pilot whales are opportunistic feeders, consuming a variety of prey including squid, octopus, fish, and crustaceans. They are known to dive to great depths to catch their prey, using echolocation to locate their food.


Female Short-finned pilot whales have a gestation period of approximately 15 months and typically give birth to a single calf every 3 to 5 years. Calves are born weighing around 60-80 kg (130-180 pounds) and are nursed for up to two years.

Conservation Status

The Short-finned pilot whale is classified as “Data Deficient” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). While there is evidence of population declines in some areas, the lack of information on population sizes and trends makes it difficult to assess their conservation status.

The Short-finned pilot whale – Globicephala macrorhynchus – Calderón tropical status in Spain

In Spain, the Short-finned pilot whale is protected under national law and is listed as “Vulnerable” in the Spanish Catalogue of Endangered Species. They are known to occur in Spanish waters, particularly around the Canary Islands and the Gulf of Cadiz.

Ronda Today

Everything you need to know before you visit Ronda “The city of dreams” in Andalucia.

Wildside Holidays – Spain

Take a trip on the Wildside! Discover the wildlife and nature of Spain, its Natural and National Parks and find the top wildlife, activity and walking holiday companies.

Iberia Nature Forum

Struggling with identifying those bugs and beasties? Why not check out the Iberia nature Forum!

Discover the Iberia Nature Forum – Environment, geography, nature, landscape, climate, culture, history, rural tourism and travel.

The Striped Dolphin (Stenella coeruleoalba)

The Striped Dolphin (Stenella coeruleoalba) is a species of marine mammal that is found in oceans and coastal waters around the world, including in Spanish waters. They are known for their distinctive blue and white striped coloration and their acrobatic displays.

In Spanish it is called el delfín listado

In Spain, the Striped Dolphin is one of the most common species of dolphins and is often encountered on whale watching tours and other marine wildlife excursions. However, like other dolphin species in Spain, the Striped Dolphin faces several threats from human activities, including habitat degradation, pollution, accidental entanglement in fishing gear, and hunting in some areas.

The Striped Dolphin (Stenella coeruleoalba)

To protect the Striped Dolphin and other dolphin species in Spain, various conservation measures have been put in place, including laws and regulations that restrict hunting and other activities that may harm the animals. Marine protected areas have also been established in Spanish waters to protect the habitat of dolphins and other marine species.

Research and monitoring programs are also in place to track the populations of Striped Dolphins and assess the impact of human activities on their health and well-being. In addition, efforts are being made to raise public awareness about the importance of protecting marine ecosystems and reducing the impact of human activities on marine wildlife.

Overall, the conservation of Striped Dolphins and other marine species in Spain requires a collaborative effort among scientists, policymakers, and the public to promote sustainable and responsible use of marine resources and protect the health of our oceans.

Dolphin sightseeing tours in Spain
Some important points to bear in mind before booking a dolphin or whale watching sightseeing tour in Spain
  • Check the season: Dolphin and whale watching tours are seasonal, so make sure you are booking your tour during the right time of the year. The best time for these tours in Spain is generally between April and October.
  • Look for a reputable tour operator: Look for a reputable tour operator that is licensed and certified to operate these types of tours. Check online reviews and ratings to ensure that they have a good track record of providing safe and enjoyable tours.
  • Consider the location: Consider the location of the tour, as some areas in Spain are better than others for dolphin and whale watching. The Strait of Gibraltar, for example, is known for its high concentration of whales and dolphins.
  • Check the tour itinerary: Check the itinerary of the tour to make sure it includes enough time for dolphin and whale watching, as well as any other activities you may be interested in.
  • Take necessary precautions: Make sure you take any necessary precautions, such as wearing appropriate clothing and sunscreen, bringing motion sickness medication if needed, and following all safety instructions given by the tour operator.
  • Respect the animals: Remember that these are wild animals and it is important to respect their space and natural habitat. Do not approach them too closely or disturb them in any way.
  • Be prepared for the weather: The weather can be unpredictable, especially when out at sea, so be prepared for changes in temperature and weather conditions by bringing appropriate clothing and gear.
  • Keep the environment clean: Make sure to dispose of any trash or waste properly and follow all environmental guidelines provided by the tour operator to help preserve the natural habitat of the animals you are observing.
Further reading

The website of the international whaling commission has an informative article here:

Ronda Today

Everything you need to know before you visit Ronda “The city of dreams” in Andalucia.

Wildside Holidays – Spain

Take a trip on the Wildside! Discover the wildlife and nature of Spain, its Natural and National Parks and find the top wildlife, activity and walking holiday companies.

The Common Bottlenose Dolphin

The Common Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) or Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin is a species of marine mammal that is found in oceans and coastal waters around the world, including in Spanish waters. In Spanish it is known as El delfín mular, tursón or nariz de botella

The bottlenose dolphin is a highly intelligent and social animal that is well-known for its acrobatic displays and friendly interactions with humans. In Spain, bottlenose dolphins are a popular attraction for tourists, and they are often encountered on boat tours and whale watching excursions.

Threats and protection
Continue reading The Common Bottlenose Dolphin