Mallorca Monday: What’s under the sea?

As you all know, our new home is on an island right in the middle of the Mediterranean sea.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I kinda figured that the Mediterranean was an oceanic ghost town. I figured this because it’s been a food bank for countless civilizations going way back to the beginning of human history. The Mediterranean is, thus unsurprisingly, the most over-fished sea on the planet.

But then, just last week a whale washed up on a beach 8 miles away from our town. We know this because some of our co-teachers were complaining about how the whale was dragged off before they could take their kids to go see it.

The cause of death is still being figured out, but the leading theory is that the whale’s stomach was full of plastic.

My first second reaction (after the whole plastic thing) was…. “there are whales out there?” So that got us thinking. What else is out there? It’s also been something that various people have asked about in the past, so we thought it would be worth the effort to research it.

Big question: What’s out there in the ocean around us?

Whales and dolphins

Clearly there are whales. In fact, there are something like 20 different kinds of whales/dolphins out there. For whales, the two most notable species in our waters are the sperm whales and the fin whale. The fin whale is the second largest whale in the world, right behind the blue whale, and there are an estimated 5,000 living in the Mediterranean. The population of sperm whales is a bit harder to pinpoint for some reason, but it’s definitely in the 1,000s.

As for dolphins, there are thousands. The most common species is the striped dolphin, followed by the bottlenose dolphin.

There are plenty of whale watching tour organizations on the island and they frequently encounter dolphins.

credit goes to NOAA for the dolphins

Sharks

Everyone wants to know about the sharks. So here goes.

It turns out that there at least 47 different species of sharks in the Mediterranean. Everything from hammerheads, makos, blacktips and even great whites can be found out there. Out there being depths of about 200 feet. They don’t often go to shallow areas, and thus shark attacks are super rare. Just like everywhere else. Discovery Channel may have “Shark Week” but bears, vending machines and mosquitoes kill so many more people than sharks. Spain as a whole has had 33 shark attacks since 1900, with only 7 of them being fatal. It’s worth noting these statistics also include fishermen who get munched taking the shark off a hook. It’s not always a Jaws-like predator hunting tasty German tourists.

Most of them are threatened from overfishing and habitat destruction. But just last year a great white was spotted off the coast of Mallorca. This was the first time a great white had been seen near these islands since 1976. So that’s neat that they’re coming back.

Occasionally other kinds of sharks will make their way close to popular beaches (August 2018, for example). When this happens the water is evacuated, and then the authorities come and try to take the shark further out to sea.

The majority of panic over sharks in Mallorca are blue sharks. This is the most common shark type in the world so it’s no surprise there are loads of them in the area.10-20 million are killed by humans a year and they’re considered “nearing threatened” for extinction. When a blue shark got too near tourists this summer they just killed it. 🙄 From the year 1580 to now blue sharks have only bitten 13 people and killed 4. Blue sharks aren’t really out to hurt you unless you’re a tuna. If you see one near a beach in Mallorca it’s probably sick and confused because it would much rather be out in the cool deep waters. Also know that hardly anyone has died, so instead of screaming and running just, you know, calmly get out of the water.

Turtles

The most common is the loggerhead turtle. They nest somewhere near Greece, and then swim about the Mediterranean. They’re probably the only turtles who breed in the Mediterranean.  They hang out near the Balearic Islands because there is a super big breeding point for bluefin tuna. Turtles love to eat these so they hang out and snack. As many come to Mallorca to chomp on tuna they are still super rare because of fishing (caught in nets and killed), boating accidents (blades), and ingesting trash and plastic.

Maybe you don’t care about turtles but turtles are our best friends because they eat jellyfish (also why they willingly eat plastic bags- the bags look like jellyfish). With fewer turtles comes more jellyfish. If you’ve ever been stung by a jellyfish (raises hand) then you should support our shelled friends in their quest to consume the bastards.

Jellyfish

There are quite a few breeds of jellyfish soiling the waters of Mallorca but I picked 4 of the most interesting ones.

Portuguese Man o’War: Probably the most deadly thing in Mallorca. It’s not actually a jellyfish and mind-blowing-ly enough it’s not even one animal. It’s actually made of 3 different types of polyps (what lives on coral) – one for feeding, one for defense, and one for reproduction. There are also 3 different types of coelenterates (like sea anemones , coral or jellyfish). These 6 assholes live together on a floating sack of carbon dioxide which makes the head of the man o’war. They can deflate it to sink.

In conclusion: the man o’war is actually a pirate ship/submarine crewed by 6 different animals.

The Common Jellyfish/Moon Jellyfish (Aurelia Aurita): A quick Google search tells me they live for only about 6 months and have “4 horseshoe shaped gonads” thanks, Google!

The Fried Egg Jellyfish – legitimately looks like a fried egg. Everyone thinks so because it’s called Medusa Huevo Frito in Spanish. Well, some look poached and others look hard boiled. Really it’s a cacophony of breakfast floating around the sea. I’ve said some mean things about jellyfish but these guys’ toxins have shown promising results against breast cancer. So who knows. Praise be to the fried egg jellyfish.

Compass Jellyfish: The top looks like a compass. They eat other jellyfish and small fish. They’re really common and actually enjoy hanging out near shores which sucks because they have a very painful sting. It actually keeps stinging you until you physically remove the “tentacles.” Use a stick, tweezers or at that point a different jellyfish to get the painful barbs out of you skin.

I drew these! Because we don’t have the rights to use other people’s pictures.

The Rarest Seabird in the World

The Balearic shearwater is probably the most rare seabird on earth. These guys have no real will to exist naturally. They don’t follow boats which is weird because that’s easy picking for food. They also inbreed with Menorcan birds so they aren’t pure blooded anymore. So a pure blooded on is on track for extinction in 40 years.

Like tourists of Mallorca they live in the UK and Ireland and travel down to the Balearics for the winter. They live on nests in coastal areas but all the coastal hotels have pushed their nesting areas away. The light pollution and cats have also taken a toll on them.

Octopus

This is the only thing mentioned in this post that is actively fished (everything else we mentioned is accidentally fished). One statistic from around the year 2000 said about 30% of a fisherman’s catch is octopus.

The most deadly thing: The Weever

These guys like to live in the sand close to the surface. They have a fin on their back that has a debilitating sting. They also attack divers and snorkelers. They have no chill at all.

The internet tells me “severe prolonged pain, fever, vomiting, slowing of heart rate, difficulty breathing and in some rare cases even death.” So that sucks and pray we never meet.

Trash/Environment

It’s difficult to talk about any of the animals living here without talking about how very screwed over they are by the EXTREME numbers of tourists who grace (read: destroy) the island with their incessant presence. All these extra, temporary people tax the resources and also don’t care that much about keeping it pretty. But it’s not just the tourists.

1/3 of all the commercial shipping in the world passes through the Mediterranean. How does shipping contribute to oceanic pollution? Illegal dumping. Not only shipping vessels, but also cruise ships, private yachts, fishing boats, military vessels, and every other kind of ship. What do they dump? Mostly human waste, used oil and bilge water (a mix of water, rust, chemicals used for cleaning, lubricants, oils, engine fluids, and sewage).

The Mediterranean only has two, super narrow, openings. The first is the strait of Gibraltar, and the second is the Suez canal. The strait of Gibraltar is only 9 miles wide, and the canal is about the width of three football fields, at most. This means that things (pollution and animals) tend to cycle out of the Mediterranean very slowly.

Worse than the shipping are the inland factories which discharge chemicals into rivers which flow into the Mediterranean.

And that’s even before going into the rest of the garbage, 95% of which is plastic. The Mediterranean has the highest concentration of plastic pollution in the world. Tourism, cruise ships, and coastal population increase are all factors here.

Recent efforts to clean and regulate the Mediterranean have helped out a bit. Today it is only the 3rd most polluted sea. Hooray.


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