Red Sea Cetacean Review - Sightings

Tethys Research Institute

Dataset credit

Marina Costa, Amina Cesario, Maddalena Fumagalli & Giuseppe Notarbartolo di Sciara, Tethys Research Institute
Chris Smeenk
Eritrea Project - Yohannes Mebrahtu
Peter Rudolph
Red Sea Dolphin Project - HEPCA


Primary contact Marina Costa Tethys Research Institute
Secondary contact Giuseppe Notarbartolo di Sciara Tethys Research Institute
Data entry Ei Fujioka Duke University


Notarbartolo di Sciara G., Kerem D., Smeenk C., Rudolph P., Cesario A., Costa M., Elasar M., Feingold D., Fumagalli M., Goffman O., Hadar N., Mebrathu Y.T., Scheinin A. 2017. Cetaceans of the Red Sea. CMS Technical Series 33. 86p.


Based on a review of the literature, complemented by original observations at sea made by the authors during the past 34 years, the cetacean fauna in the Red Sea appears to be composed by a total of 16 species: three Mysticetes (Bryde’s whale, Balaenoptera edeni; Omura’s whale, B. omurai; and humpback whale, Megaptera novaeangliae) and 13 Odontocetes (dwarf sperm whale, Kogia sima; killer whale, Orcinus orca; false killer whale, Pseudorca crassidens; short-finned pilot whale, Globicephala macrorhynchus; Risso’s dolphin, Grampus griseus; Indian Ocean humpback dolphin, Sousa plumbea; rough-toothed dolphin, Steno bredanensis; Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin, Tursiops aduncus; common bottlenose dolphin, T. truncatus; pantropical spotted dolphin, Stenella attenuata; spinner dolphin, S. longirostris; striped dolphin, S. coeruleoalba; Indo-Pacific common dolphin, Delphinus delphis tropicalis). This review presents the very first documented and confirmed sightings of B. omurai, K. sima and S. bredanensis in the Red Sea. Of all the above species, however, only nine (Bryde’s whale, false killer whale, Risso’s dolphin, Indian Ocean humpback dolphin, Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin, common bottlenose dolphin, pantropical spotted dolphin, spinner dolphin, and Indo-Pacific common dolphin) appeared to occur regularly in the Red Sea, the remaining seven only occurring sporadically as vagrants from the Indian Ocean. Even regular species appeared not to be uniformly distributed throughout the Red Sea, e.g., with Indo-Pacific common dolphins mostly limited to the southern portion of the region, and the Gulf of Suez only hosting the two bottlenose dolphin species and Indian Ocean humpback dolphins. No convincing evidence was found of the Red Sea occurrence of two whale species mentioned in the literature: the common minke whale, Balaenoptera acutorostrata, and the sperm whale, Physeter macrocephalus. The absence from the region of deep diving species (e.g., Ziphiidae and the sperm whale) can be explained by the geomorphology of the Straits of Bab al Mandab, with its extended shallow sill likely to discourage incursions by such species into the Red Sea. The coordinated effort and the different expertise of the authors has contributed to amend previous mistakes and inaccuracies, verify and validate specimen identification, highlight features of relevance for species taxonomy and, most importantly, draw a fundamental baseline to inform conservation of cetaceans in the Red Sea.


To release updated information about cetacean species in the Red Sea and review existing information from published and grey literature.

Supplemental information

Sighting records were collected from the data owners:

Chris Smeenk

Eritrea Project - Yohannes Mebrahtu

Israel Marine Mammal Research & Assistance Center - IMMRAC
Mia Elasar, Daphna Feingold, Oz Goffman, Nir Hadar, Dan Kerem, Aviad Scheinin

Peter Rudolph

Red Sea Dolphin Project - HEPCA

This dataset incorporated the previously published dataset "IMMRAC marine mammal sightings from the Red Sea (".

Temporal resolution varies per record. Time values are not available. "tprecision" column is added to indicate the resolution.


Notarbartolo di Sciara G., Kerem D., Smeenk C., Rudolph P., Cesario A., Costa M., Elasar M., Feingold D., Fumagalli M., Goffman O., Hadar N., Mebrathu Y.T., Scheinin A. 2017. Cetaceans of the Red Sea. CMS Technical Series 33. 86p.



This section explains attributes included in the original dataset. OBIS-SEAMAP restricts the attributes available to the public to date/time, lat/lon and species names/counts only. Should you need other attributes described here, you are encouraged to contact the data provider.

Attributes described below represent those in the original dataset provided by the provider.
Only minimum required attributes are visible and downloadable online. Other attributes may be obtained upon provider's permission.

Attributes in dataset

Attribute (table column)Description
oidUnique ID number (generated by OBIS-SEAMAP)
idRow ID
observation_fromAlways "Direct sighing"
survey_kindIndicate whether the record came from a research survey or an opportunistic sighting
geeral_sourceData source / data owner
detailed_sourceData provider
sighting_date_origDate of sighting in original format
tprecisionTemporal resolution
obs_dateDate of the sighting added by OBIS-SEAMAP
obs_timeTime of the observation is not available
site_nameSite name
coordinateIndicate if the coordinates were provided or estimated
latLatitude in decimal degrees
longLongitude in decimal degrees
speciesSpecies name recorded
sp_tsnTaxonomic Serial Number added by OBIS-SEAMAP
group_size_orgGroup size in original format
group_sizeNumeric group side added by OBIS-SEAMAP
calvesIndicate the presence of calves
calf_numberNumber of calves
geomGeometry field added by OBIS-SEAMAP
Marine mammals889
Sea turtles0
Rays and sharks0
Other species0
Non spatial0
Non species0
Date, Begin1984-06-09
Date, End2017-01-01
Temporal prec.111000
Latitude11.67 - 31.17
Longitude32.30 - 44.07
Coord. prec.6 decimal digits
Data typeAnimal sighting
Traveled (km)0
Contr. through
Sharing policy CC-BY-NC (Minimum)
Shared with OBIS
GBIF (via DOI)
See metadata in static HTML
See metadata in FGDC XML
See download history / statistics