Humpback whale in Slovenian waters

A humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) was present in Slovenian waters in February, March and April 2009.

Morigenos researchers identified the species on 16 February and confirmed that it was indeed a humpback whale. It was a young adult, about 10-12 meters long. The animal appeared in normal shape and did not show any obvious signs of illness or difficulties.

Morigenos crew monitored the whale and observed its behaviour, movements and dive times. The physical appearance, dive times and the behaviour of the whale appeared normal.

We informed our colleagues from other parts of the Mediterranean about this unusual event. We also informed the international scientific community. Photos of the whale were already compared to the international photographic database, which includes over 6000 humpback whales in the Atlantic. We found out that this whale was not recorded in the international database.


Humpback whale in Slovenia: epilogue

Well, the epilogue to this story is that there is no epilogue. The humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) that stayed in the waters off Piran between February and April 2009, was last seen on 21 April 2009. Nobody knows where the whale went (it was not spotted anywhere else in the Adriatic) and whether everything will be fine with it. However, we all hope that the whale returned safely to the Atlantic ocean, where it most likely belongs. This was the first official and documented record of this species in Slovenia, the second in the Adriatic Sea and the 14th in the Mediterranean.

The scientists of Morigenos and the Marine Biological Station Piran have recently published a scientific paper about this extraordinary visit. The paper »New record of the humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) in the Adriatic Sea« was published in an international scientific journal Annales.


So what do we know about the humback whale in Slovenian waters?

In the past, Morigenos researchers have already participated in research projects on humpback whales in other parts of the world (South Africa, for example). We therefore (luckily) already had quite a lot of knowledge and experience with humpback whales. As we carefully monitored the whale during its stay in our waters and collected quite a large amount of data (we photographed the whale for identification, we recorded its dive times, we observed and recorded its behaviour,…) we can draw some basic conclusions. The whale was a young male adult, probably on the brink of attaining sexual maturity. The fact that the whale was alone, is not particularly unexpected for humpbacks, which often swim alone. According to its behaviour, dive times and the body condition, the whale seemed healthy and in good shape, without any signs of disease or problems. Its behaviour did not show any abnormal patterns. Although we do not have any definite evidence, certain patterns of the whale’s behaviour suggest that it was feeding in the area. The fact that large fish schools of fish (which are the most common food source for humpbacks in the North Atlantic) were present in the area at that time further supports this hypothesis. We believe this was the most likely reason for the whale to come to the North Adriatic. In collaboration with colleagues from USA, we compared the photos of the whale’s tail fluke (used for identifying individual whales) to the North Atlantic Humpback Whale Catalogue. We found out that the whale was not yet recorded in the international photographic database. »Our« whale was therefore included in the catalogue and given a new identification code.

During the whale’s visit in Slovenia, we contacted the Slovenian Ministry of Environment and Spatial Planning and proposed a code of conduct for observing the whale. We are very pleased that the Ministry responded quickly and issued the code of conduct on their website.

Click on the link below to read the scientific paper:

Genov, T., Kotnjek, P. & Lipej, L. 2009. New record of the humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) in the Adriatic Sea. Annales, Series Historia Naturalis, 19(1), 25-30.


Below are photos of the whale taken off the Slovenian coast. Photos: Tilen Genov/Morigenos ©