Ships Must Steer Clear of Dolphins
Bottlenose dolphins, which will positively be affected by cargo ships no longer passing through the Alboran Sea's primary dolphin feeding grounds.
Credit: Ricardo Sagarminaga van Buiten

Ships off the southern coast of Spain must now steer clear of bottlenose dolphin foraging grounds, according to the International Maritime Organization.

The IMO has diverted shipping lanes that pass through the Alboran Sea, a gateway between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Ocean, 20 miles further south. The area has an abundance of fish, which makes it one of Europe’s most valuable feeding grounds.

“This is very positive news,” said Ricardo Sagarminaga van Buiten, an Earthwatch Institute scientist. “Cargo ships, often carrying dangerous substances, regularly pass through the Alboran Sea’s primary dolphin feeding grounds.”

As almost 30 percent of the world’s maritime traffic currently passes through this gateway, the diversion will reduce acoustic and water pollution in the area and should help mitigate the impact of accidental oil spills on coastal habitats and tourist beaches.

Dolphin populations in the area are fragmented and genetically isolated, so making these waters safer for dolphins to travel is critical to the survival of the species, the scientists say.

“Bottlenose dolphins have suffered a sharp decline in the Mediterranean over the last decade,” van Buiten said. “So diverting the shipping route should give the species an opportunity to recover.”