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Using historical accounts to assess the occurrence and distribution of small cetaceans in a poorly known area

  • Cristina Brito (a1) (a2) and Nina Vieira (a1) (a3)
Abstract

Historical science may play an important role in helping understanding and shaping the future of the world's oceans and to comprehend present day effects and conditions. Regarding cetaceans, historical accounts may be extremely useful to add new data to their occurrence and distribution in poorly studied regions. In Portugal, historical sources indicate that toninhas (possibly common dolphins Delphinus delphis) were observed since the 13th Century and were captured in large numbers during the late 19th and 20th Centuries. Historical occurrences given by naturalists and scientific surveys conducted by biologists indicate their regular presence with particular preference for certain areas. Also, recent observations of opportunity resulted in the same kind of accounts. Between 1976 and 1978, a study on captured cetaceans along the Portuguese shore found at fish markets was conducted and resulted in a total count of 45 cetaceans. Most captures were of small cetaceans (87% common dolphins), even though four baleen whales were registered. These cetacean captures were part of a local non-industrial fishery, as they were not the main target, but rather opportunistic catches or even by-catches of other fisheries. Delphinids were not protected by law at the time and were caught with hand harpoons or accidentally drowned in fish nets, sometimes sold at major fish markets such as Sesimbra, Peniche and Póvoa de Varzim. In geographical areas where recent cetacean sightings are rare and information is sparse, such as Portugal, it becomes important to take advantage of alternative sources of data. Our contribution towards the compilation of relevant historical and ‘forgotten’ science such as old natural observations, whaling data and observations of opportunity stresses the relevance of using historical data to access past occurrence and distribution of cetaceans.

Copyright
Corresponding author
Correspondence should be addressed to: C Brito, Escola de Mar, Edíficio ICAT, Campus da FCUL, Campo Grande, 1749-016, Lisboa, Portugal email: cristina.brito@escolademar.pt
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Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom
  • ISSN: 0025-3154
  • EISSN: 1469-7769
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-the-marine-biological-association-of-the-united-kingdom
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