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Taken From 'The Wild Dolphins Of Gibraltar - A Guide By Mike Lawrence' 
Courtesy Of Dolphin Safari


The Bay and Straits of Gibraltar, with their large population of Whales and Dolphins, are unique in being situated in a major tourist area accessible to most Western Europeans. This small guide has been written for those people who are visiting or live in the Costa del Sol and Gibraltar. It does not set out to be an in depth study of the subject, but is intended to present the answers to those facts and details that the average person is curious about when seeing these lovely creatures in the wild. We hope that the serious student of Cetology will forgive us for dealing with the subject in this manner, but we feel that this area provides a unique opportunity for creating the interest necessary for the preservation of these fascinating animals. 

M J Lawrence
May 1986. 


Dolphins belong to a marine order called Cetacea (pronounced se-tay-shi-a) which is the group name given to those mammals that are born and live the whole of their lives in the sea. By definition this includes the Whale, Dolphin, Porpoise, Grampus and the Manatee, but would exclude such animals as the Seal and Walrus who have come on to land to give birth.

Cetaceans can be divided into two main orders: The Mysticeti and the Odontoceti.


Cetaceans may be found in all the oceans of the world, but some individual species are not universally distributed because of their specialised diet. For instance, the great Baleen Whales do not migrate from one hemisphere to the other, but remain in the high latitudes where their food is usually found and have adapted to the seasonal availability of this food. During times of plenty, each one can be taking anything up to 4 tons of krill a day.


Cetaceans are mainly social animals, they are not solitary but spend all of their lives together in groups of varying numbers ranging from a family of three to many hundreds. Because the oceans are so bountiful, the cetacean population was very large. Unfortunately today, the situation is rather different. Modern methods of hunting have decimated some species to the point of virtual extinction, as in the case of the Baleen Whales.


The mysticeti are the vacuum cleaners of the marine world, scooping up huge quantities of food, chiefly plankton and krill, both of which are some of the richest sources of protein available. You can try catching this for yourself with a very fine net when you next visit the sea. After dragging it through the water for some minutes, you will find a minute quantity of a jellylike substance in the bottom of the net.


What is intelligence? We call ourselves the most intelligent species on the planet and yet we have wars, poverty, oppression and the squandering of natural resources. The list is endless. Obviously, intelligence is not always measured in terms of a creatures ability to manipulate events and surroundings, for what at the time, it considers to be in its best interests.

What to look for

The animals we will now be describing can be seen locally from time to time and we set below the principle characteristics to enable you to identify them. They are:


Lyall Watson. Whales of the World. Hutchinson and Co.

FC Fraser. British Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises.

David Attenborough. The Living Planet. William Collins & Son Co Ltd

International Dolphin Watch. Dolphin Spotters Handbook.

Antony Alpers. Dolphins. John Murray, London.

Horace E Dobbs. Follow a wild dolphin. Souvenir Press Ltd.

Jacques-Ives Cousteau. Dolphins. Cassel and Co Ltd.