In this guide to Spain’s best aquariums, you’ll find that it’s home to some of the most impressive and diverse marine museums. From L’Oceanogràfic in Valencia, which is the largest in Europe, to the stunning Poema del Mar Aquarium in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, there are plenty of opportunities to discover the wonders of the marine world. Visitors can expect to see a wide range of species, from colorful fish and sea turtles to sharks and rays.
Aquariums have become increasingly popular tourist destinations in recent years, offering visitors a unique opportunity to learn about the diverse and fascinating creatures that inhabit our oceans and waterways.
In addition to providing a thrilling and educational experience, many of these aquariums place a strong emphasis on conservation and research, working to protect the marine environment and its inhabitants. Whether you’re a family looking for a fun day out or a marine enthusiast seeking to expand your knowledge, there’s something for everyone in Spain’s aquariums.
Just click the images to find out more about entry prices and booking details.
Aquariums in Andalucia (A Guide to Spain’s Best Aquariums)
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 https://www.proyectoorcacadiz.com/en/about-2)
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.
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.
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.
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): https://circe.info/
Orca Research Cádiz: “Proyecto O.R.CA. was born to raise awareness about the situation of the orca in the Iberian Peninsula. A group of volunteers from different areas whose mission and passion is the protection and conservation of this highly threatened population. https://www.proyectoorcacadiz.com/en
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.
Great to hear that many of the sea turtle eggs that made the news earlier this year for being the first recorded nest of the season in the entire Western Mediterranean have hatched and entered the sea.
Since the discovery of the nest the site has had a 24 hour volunteer network taking care of it. Once the notice was received that the volunteers, who were guarding the nest, had seen the first turtles emerge, staff from the CRAM Foundation Clinic and Rescue Area team as well as Elena Abella from the University of Vic (Caretta a la Vista Project) and technicians from the Generalitat de Catalunya traveled to the area.
A total of 44 sea turtles emerged and 34 found their way to the sea whilst 10 were captured and transferred to the facilities of the CRAM Foundation where they will be part of a study project and reared in captivity until they reach the optimum weight for their reintroduction.
The next day the nest site was excavated and 38 undeveloped eggs were found along with one live turtle hatchling that was having difficulty exiting the egg due to a malformed body shell. This individual has also been transferred for hand rearing. 2 other hatchlings were found dead.
When the nest site was discovered earlier this summer 61 eggs were removed for artificial incubation and 30 were found to be fertile. These hatchlings will also be part of the reintroduction program.
Fantastic footage observing fin whales using drones off the Catalan coast. These researchers are using drones to film and record behaviour that can’t be observed from the deck of a boat.
The fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus), also known as finback whale or common rorqual and formerly known as herring whale or razorback whale, is a cetacean belonging to the parvorder of baleen whales. It is the second-largest species on Earth after the blue whale.