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Sea-Life, Conservation & the Beautiful Mediterranean

Spainperson on rocks is surrounded on three sides by water, therefore it’s not surprising that much of the country’s economy has come to rely on the ocean. From exploiting the country’s fabulous beaches and exporting millions of tonnes of fish and seafood each year, to building state-of-the-art sea-life centers… the Mediterranean and the Atlantic are very much at the heart of Spain’s major industries. Here, we look at what kind of sea-life can actually be found living in Spanish waters.

Dolphins, whales, sharks… you name it and it’s pretty likely to be there. Striped, common and bottle-nosed dolphins bouncing out of the waters are regular sights if you know where to look, as are long-finned pilot whales, sperm whales and, if you’re really lucky, Orcas! The Bay of Biscay and Gibraltar’s Bay of Algerciras are the most popular areas in which to go whale-watching. You are generally guaranteed to see something!

Sharks also inhabit the Mediterranean and the Atlantic waters close to the Spanish coast, they are often caught, intentionally or otherwise, by local fishermen. Don’t be alarmed however, they rarely venture too close to the shores and although there have been isolated attacks in recent years, they are very rare! Let’s not forget… the ocean is their world, therefore we should enter it with the respect that it, and it’s inhabitants deserve. DO NOT throw your litter in the ocean either, the consequences can mean death for some of these creatures – even the smallest piece of plastic can do a great deal of harm. Take ALL of your litter with you!

shark and manThe Spanish Mediterranean is home to a few colonies of one of the world’s rarest mammals. Hunted for its skin during the twentieth century, the monk seal was thought to be extinct in Europe in 1992. However, thanks to a huge protection program there is now hope; a number of small colonies have been spotted off the Spanish coast! Today, the biggest threat to their survival is skin diving. Monk seals inhabit underwater caves and are very easily disturbed, females will often abort their young when alarmed, for example by divers.

Closer to shore, there are plenty of jellyfish, sea urchins and stingrays. Most jellyfish are harmless but there are a few Man-of-Wars lurking around, whose tentacles can grow up to 20metres long! Man-of-Wars are not technically a jellyfish, but a colony, and if you are unlucky enough to get caught by one the best thing to do is ‘relax’ and slowly slide away.

Jellyfish and Man-of-War stings should be bathed in sea water, not fresh water, as this can re-trigger the sting. Brightly-colored and wildly-formed sea urchins are abundant in the Spanish seas, they are beautiful to look at but be careful not to stand on them! Sting-rays are also popular sights in shallower waters, they are not aggressive creatures but may graze you with their tail if trodden on, so look out!

man of warFor a chance to see some of these weird and wonderful creatures close up, why not visit some of the east coast’s stunning aquariums? Valencia is home to the largest aquarium in Europe, Aquarium de Valencia, which is part of the famous City of Arts and Sciences. This huge sea-life center is home to fish and wildlife from all over the world, from the tropics to the Antarctic.

Further north, built only 10 years ago, Barcelona’s world-class aquarium is one of the city’s top attractions. It contains fish and sea-life from all corners of the planet, with certain tanks and areas designated to certain oceans, for example the Caribbean, Great Barrier Reef and Red Sea tanks, with all of their vivid colors and strange shapes. By far the most complex of the aquariums however, is the Mediterranean tank, which has reconstructed protected areas of the Spanish coastline in order to raise awareness about preserving the seas.

Away from what to catch sight of and what to avoid, there are millions of smaller fish and crustaceans that are fished and eaten each year. Before the tourism boom in the 1970’s, the fishing industry largely supported the east coast’s economy. Today, the Spanish fishing fleet is the largest in the EU with around 80,000 sailors and 400,000 laborers! In 2000, Spain exported 99.9 million tonnes of canned fish worth around $300 million, in addition to 149.9 million tonnes of crustaceans and molluscs, worth around $390 million!

Other popular catches are plaice, tuna, sardines, hake, mackerel, swordfish, octopus, anchovies and mussels. In fact, Spain is the world’s biggest exporter of mussels after China.

Spain’s sea-life is a major part of its industry, its culture and its allure. Grab the opportunity to learn as much about it as you can! Discover Spanish wildlife and LEARN Spanish by visiting http://www.donquijote.org/

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