Illegal driftnetting causes each year several entanglements and deaths of sperm whales in different Mediterranean areas, primarily in the Tyrrhenian Sea. In summer 2020, during the June-July fishing season, two sperm whales were found entangled in illegal driftnets in the
Aeolian Archipelago waters, Southern Italy. These two rare events were an exceptional chance to collect behavioural and acoustics data about entangled sperm whales. We analysed 1132 one-minute sets of breathing/behavioural data and 1575 minutes of acoustic recording, when the whales were found entangled, during the rescue operation, immediately after release, and in the days thereafter. The first whale was generally quiet showing a general status of debilitation/weakness, numerous skin lesions, and low breathing rate (0.31 (0.60)); it collaborated during rescue operations. On the contrary, the second whale showed a high level of agitation with a high breathing rate (1.48 (1.31)) during both the entanglement period and the net cutting operations, vigorously moving its fluke and pectoral fins, opening
its mouth, sideway rolling or side fluking and frequently defecating. Acoustically, the first whale produced mainly single clicks in all phases except for two series of creaks during rescuing operations while the second whale produced a wide range of vocalizations (single
clicks, likely either slow clicks or regular clicks, creaks, and codas). Our observations indicate that acoustics, respiratory and behavioural parameters may be useful to monitor the physical/physiological status of sperm whales during disentanglement operations.
Blasi MF et al. 2021. Behaviour and vocalizations of two sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) entangled in illegal driftnets in the Mediterranean Sea.” PloS one 16.4 (2021): e0250888.