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Spain's sea life: 10 common but lesser-known species
10 February 2020 @ 13:20

FISH and seaweed are not the only creatures living in Spain's seas. Some of the most common are also some of the least-known, or least-understood in the case of certain plants, and they even include birds who, whilst they do not actually dwell in the water, scarcely move more than a few metres from the nearest waves as their food source is inside them.

Some are everpresent and others are under serious threat of extinction, but if you go out walking, diving, snorkelling, or on a catamaran trip, you could well see some or all of them.

Here's our top 10.


Rorqual or blue-fin whale (Balaenopteridae)

The largest group of baleen whales – a family that includes the blue whale, the largest mammal on earth, which grows to 180 tonnes – the rorqual also covers the fin whale, or blue-fin whale, which comes in at around 120 tonnes and is believed to be the second-largest on the planet.

They live on small fish and molluscs, and their migratory route south at the start of the northern hemisphere autumn and winter passes through the Ligurian Sea to the eastern Atlantic – and, right on the eastern tip of the mainland, the Cabo de la Nao in the north of the province of Alicante between Dénia and Jávea, is a stretch of the Mediterranean known locally as the 'whale way'. Cetacean traffic here in around August and September is fairly dense, as it is a standard part of the migration route. Residents and tourists in the area have often spotted rorqual fin whales from their terraces or whilst out on boat trips.


Long-finned pilot whale (Globicephala macrorhynchus)

A type of ocean dolphin common in the Mediterranean, this creature gets its common name in English from its exceptionally-long chest fins and the fact that they appeared to have a 'pilot', or leader, in their packs. Females can grow to 5.7 metres (about 19 feet) and males to 6.7 metres (22 feet), and weigh around 1.3 tonnes and 2.3 tonnes respectively when fully grown.

They mostly eat squid and other cephalopods, and they mix with other species of dolphins socially – particularly the bottlenose, Atlantic white-sided, and Risso's dolphins.

Also, they have been seen 'mothering' baby calves which are not their own – and males are just as likely to do so as females.

In Spanish, they are known as the Calderón.


Mediterranean Slipper Lobster (Scyllarides Latus)

One of the Mediterranean's most enigmatic species – a rare crustacean caught as food, it lives in caves and underwater cracks. Work is ongoing in trying to recognise them, document their habits and protect them.


They grow to around a foot in length (30 centimetres) and weigh up to 1.5 kilos, and can also be found in the waters surrounding the Canary Islands, the Azores, Madeira, Cape Verde, and the coast of western mainland Africa.

Despite being classified as a 'lobster', they do not have claws, they live on smaller crustaceans such as limpets and bivalves, as well as squid and oysters, and are mainly nocturnal hunters as their natural predators tend to come out in the daytime.

In Spanish, they are known as the Cigarra de Mar, and one is shown in picture two (Peter Koelbl/Wikimedia Commons).


Neptune Grass, or Slender Seagrass (Cymodocea Nodosa)

A plant which forms a meadow on the sea bed and which is similar to grass, with flowers, seeds, roots, stems and leaves, this marine shrub has adapted to life on the bottom of the oceans and provides shelter and oxygen for sea fauna. It is mainly found off the coasts of the Canary Islands in the eastern Atlantic.


European Shag (Phalacrocorax Aristotelis)

Normally found on islands and coastal clifftops along the Cantabrian Seashores, the Mediterranean and the Atlantic coast of mainland Spain and Portugal and the Canary Islands, their main threat at the moment – other than climate change – is the American Bison, which has lately been plundering their nests. A type of cormorant, they grow to between 68 and 78 centimetres (2'3” to 2'7”) in length, with a wingspan about one-and-a-half times this figure.



The European Shag is black with a long tail, rarely strays far from the immediate coast and feeds off fish from the sea – which they will often travel long distances to find – and their natural predator is the sand eel.

They build their nests from old seaweed, twigs and their own excrement.

To spot them, head to Mediterranean nature reserves such as the Montgó (Dénia and Jávea, Alicante province) and Las Salinas (salt-flats) de la Mata (Torrevieja, southern Alicante province).

In Spanish, they are known as the Cormorán Moñudo.

Picture three (Javier Albertos/Wikimedia Commons) shows a pair of European Shags in the Cíes Isles off the coast of Galicia.



Seven species of marine turtle exist in the world – the Loggerhead (Caretta Caretta), the Leatherback (Dermochelys Coriacea), the Pacific Green (Chelonia Mydas), the Hawksbill (Eretmochelys Imbricata), the Kemp's Ridley (Lepidochelys Kempii), the Pacific Ridley (Lepidochelys Olivacea), and the Flatback (Natator Depressus). All bar the latter two are found frequently in Spain's seas, particularly the Mediterranean, where the Loggerhead turtle (the Tortuga Boba, in Spanish) is the most-spotted – and the most-rescued. Many towns along the east coast have set up 'turtle banks' on their shores, so if fishermen catch them by accident or members of the public out on yachts find them injured or trapped, they can drop them off, call the 112 emergency service number, and marine vets will collect them.

In this area, they are taken to the Oceanogràfic in Valencia – Europe's largest aquarium – and treated, rehabilitated and nursed back to health, before being released into the sea again near where they were caught. The turtles are tagged so experts can monitor their processes, and huge crowds of members of the public gather for the 'turtle release' – often, competitions are held with children getting to name the turtles before they go back into the wild.


Angel Shark (Squatina Squatina)

Although this creature, known in Spanish as the Tiburón Angelote, is actually a shark, it looks for all the world like a fish – a flat one, like a rayfish or monkfish, which lives close to the bottom of the sea. It is extinct in most of the world and, although this is not yet the case in Spain's seas, it is critically endangered and the project Life Intermares, based in the Canary Islands, is working hard on trying to protect them and increase their population.

When they were more abundant and doing so was more sustainable, they were caught for human consumption, particularly in the north-eastern Atlantic, between approximately Iceland and the Canary Islands, where they were fairly prolific.

They can grow to 2.4 metres, or about 7'11”, in the case of females, and 1.8 metres, or 5'11”, in the case of males – a rare case of the female of a species being larger than the male.

As it mainly lives on the seafloor, the Angel Shark eats bottom-dwelling, small, bony fish.

Whilst their bite is extremely painful, the Angel Shark almost never attacks humans; they normally stay still or move away unless aggravated...




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