Killer whales in the Strait of Gibraltar are socially, genetically and ecologically distinct from other groups in the north Atlantic and Canaries, according to a new scientific study.
Until now, orcas in the strait had been regarded as belonging to the same social group as those around the Canary Islands.
But the new research has established that none of the strait’s resident orcas has been spotted in the Canaries, or vice versa, meaning there is no interaction between the groups.
Based on detailed study of skin and fat samples, the scientists have also established that orcas in the Strait of Gibraltar do not share the same genes or even diet as other groups in Spain or Europe.
“The orcas in the Strait of Gibraltar are unique, they are isolated and bear different characteristics to orcas in the rest of Spain and the European continent,” said Spanish cetacean conservation group CIRCE.
Ruth Esteban, an investigator with the group, said the new research should form a key element of conservation plans in the future.
“It highlights the importance and urgency of conservation efforts to protect these orcas, because they are not only a small community, but an isolated one,” she said.
The research was conducted by CIRCE in cooperation with Fundación Loro Parque, Fundación Biodiversidad and the Sociedad para el Estudio de los Cetáceos en el Archipiélago Canario.