Review of Cetaceans in the Red Sea

  • Marina CostaEmail author
  • Maddalena Fumagalli
  • Amina Cesario
Part of the Springer Oceanography book series (SPRINGEROCEAN)


The number of cetacean species present in the Red Sea is unknown. Navigation and associated exploration of Red Sea waters dates back thousands of years, but despite relatively high levels of human activity in the basin, observations of cetaceans in the Red Sea remain sparse. However, the absence of a comprehensive record of these marine mammals in the Red Sea is not due to the absence of cetaceans. The first published report of cetaceans in the Red Sea was made by Forskål at the end of the 18th century and information about encounters with both live and stranded dolphins and whales continued throughout the 19th century. During the first 80 years of the 20th century a number of new sightings confirmed previous observations, suggesting some additions to the list. Following establishment of the Indian Ocean Whale Sanctuary in 1979, a renewed interest arose about cetacean conservation and dedicated surveys finally commenced. Information from smaller-scale projects was then collected in the waters off Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Eritrea, Yemen and Israel, further raising the tally of cetacean species recorded in the Red Sea. The timely review presented in this chapter notes that at least 17 species of cetaceans have been observed in the Red Sea, including: Balaenoptera edeni, B. musculus, B. omurai, Megaptera novaeangliae, Delphinus delphis cfr. tropicalis, Grampus griseus, Globicephala macrorhynchus, Kogia sima, Orcinus orca, Pseudorca crassidens, Steno bredanensis, Stenella attenuata, S. coeruleoalba, S. longirostris, Sousa plumbea, Tursiops aduncus, and T. truncatus. Whilst the cetacean populations of the northern Red Sea have been recently assessed, it is a matter of concern that much less is known about the presence of cetaceans in the central and southern parts of the basin. Given the accelerating growth of human populations, together with the associated degradation of the marine environment, there is an urgent need for a more up-to-date appraisal of cetaceans, including the presence, abundance, distribution and behaviour of represented species throughout the Red Sea. The effectiveness of cetacean stock management and conservation depends on such information and there is a duty of care for governments, NGOs and academic institutions within the region to support and facilitate the research required to acquire a better understanding of the Red Sea’s whales and dolphins.



The authors would like to thank the Italian Cooperation in Egypt, the Hurghada Environmental Protection and Conservation Association (HEPCA), the University of Otago, the University of Hong Kong, the University of St. Andrews, the Earthwatch Institute, the Rufford Small Grant Foundation, and Boomerang for Earth Conservation for their financial, logistic and scientific support during the long years of research in Egypt. We acknowledge the important contribution of Giuseppe Notarbartolo di Sciara, Amr Ali, Mahmoud Hanafy, Dani Kerem, Chris Smeenk, Daphna Feingold, Peter Rudolf and Yohannes T. Mebrahtu in advancing our understanding of the scientific, economic and social implications of the Red Sea. We thank David S. Janiger for the library of Marine Mammals, and are pleased to acknowledge Angela Ziltener, Maha Khalil, Elke Bojanowski, Islam El-Sadek, Mahmoud Ismail and the Egyptian diving centres for sharing their knowledge with the authors. We are also grateful to the field assistants and volunteers who supported the field work. Comments by the editors and reviewers on earlier drafts greatly enhanced the quality of this work. This chapter is dedicated to Amr Ali (1971–2016), whose brilliant visions and passionate dediction revolutionised the field of marine resources conservation in Egypt.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marina Costa
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Maddalena Fumagalli
    • 2
    • 3
  • Amina Cesario
    • 2
    • 4
  1. 1.South Atlantic Environmental Research Institute (SAERI), Stanley CottageStanleyFalkland Islands
  2. 2.Tethys Research InstituteMilanItaly
  3. 3.Department of ZoologyUniversity of OtagoDunedinNew Zealand
  4. 4.School of Biological SciencesSwire Institute of Marine Science, University of Hong KongHong Kong SarChina

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