Historical strandings of cetaceans on the Portuguese coast: Anedotes, people and naturalists

Andreia Sousa, Cristina Brito

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1 Citation (Scopus)


Large whale strandings have always been intriguing to people through the centuries. The size and strangeness of these events always attracted popular attention and were, later on, a source for food, oil and other products. Our goal was to document species occurrence over time along the mainland coast of Portugal through the use of historical records as they can provide useful information on cetaceansâ ™ species. A total of 38 historical records from the 16th to the 20th Centuries were collected from several Portuguese institutes and personal archives. Results show an increasing awareness of the scientific importance of strandings reflected throughout the years in number and in the detail of the strandings. The most common stranded species recorded was Physeter macrocephalus followed by Balaenoptera physalus. Even though historical stranding records are sparse for mainland Portugal, the information gathered indicates a high diversity of cetaceans. We also addressed the evolution of the historical records in aspects such as in number of records, description detail, picturesâ ™ content and scientific accuracy. We were able to establish relationships linking strandings, local fishing communities, the general public, and particularly the contribution of early 20th Century zoologists. Results indicate that reports made by local fishing communities and the role of naturalists and science journals of the 19th and early 20th Centuries was of considerable relevance to the present knowledge about cetaceans, giving an important contribution to modern day cetacean studies.

Original languageEnglish
JournalMarine Biodiversity Records
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2012


  • history of science
  • large whales
  • natural history
  • occurrence
  • Portugal
  • strandings


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