Zifios or beaked whales or goose beaked whales live in the sea around the coasts of Fuerteventura and other Canary Islands, and many die of natural causes. However, since an incident in 2002 when 14 zifios died during military manoeuvres off the coast of Fuerteventura, and believed to be linked to the use of sonar equipment by the military. This led to the Canary Islands banning the use of sonar equipment.
Since that time, deaths of zifios have reduced by 25%. This issue is currently being discussed in Fuerteventura at an international congress where 25 scientists are addressing technological advances to learn more about the effects of sonar equipment on zifios and other cetaceans including whales, dolphins and porpoises.
The Institute of Animal Health and Food Safety at the University of La Palmas has been carrying out investigations over recent years to identify the cause of death of any cetaceans that have been reported. This study shows a predominance of death from natural causes, such as cancer, infections, neonatal death and anthropogenic incidents, such as death by human activity that would include collisions with ships, interactions with fishing boats and pollution.
The European Parliament took a resolution to invite countries of the European Union to take measures to avoid the use of sonar equipment to protect underwater life, but this was non-binding. The Canary Islands Government asked the Spanish Government to approve an anti-sonar moratorium, which has now become a world reference for the defence of these unique sea creatures, and has been shown to prevent massive levels of beach strandings of these sea creatures.
Other parts of the world have attempted to follow the example shown by the Canary Islands ban on sonar equipment, but this has not been successful. California has made some attempt to copy this action, and Italy and Greece in the Mediterranean coasts have reported clear evidence that mortality of cetaceans is linked to military manoeuvres, and now these sea creatures in the Mediterranean are defined to be at a high risk of mortality.
This congress reports that before the moratorium came into effect, one in three cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) died by human activity, and now this is one in four, so that fewer cetaceans have died as a direct result of human activity.
“Zifios are just one of the 30 types of cetaceans that live in the sea off the coasts of the Canary Islands, and the region of the Eastern Atlantic has the greatest richness and diversity of underwater life. Also, the coastal regions of the Canary Islands are the third point in the world where you can go out to sea with certainty of seeing cetaceans during the day,” says Antonio Fernandez, Director of the Institute of Animal Health and Food Safety at the University of Las Palmas.
You can find this and other news stories from the Canary Islands and Spain in the free, online 'News from the Canary Islands':
Remember to enter your email address for your FREE weekly online copy of 'News from the Canary Islands'
Keep up to date by joining our Facebook page: @newsfromthecanaryislands