Historical strandings of cetaceans on the Portuguese coast

Escola de Mar

Dataset credit

Escola de Mar


Primary contact Andreia Sousa Escola de Mar
Data entry Connie Kot



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 cetaceans' 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, pictures' 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.


Our objective was to document cetacean species presence over time along the mainland coast of Portugal through the use of historical written records of strandings. We will also address the evolution of the historical records in different perspectives such as the description detail, image content and scientific accuracy. When possible we will establish relationships between strandings and local fishing communities and the general public, with a particular focus on the contribution of early zoologists. This study shows historical relationships between these stranded animals and people, and is relevant both to the history of science as well as giving an important contribution to modern day cetacean studies.

Supplemental information

Records did not include time information, so 00:00:00 was used and noted in the [Notes] column. When records did not include month and/or day information, January was used to fill the month and 1 was used to fill the day and noted in the [Notes] column. One record did not have latitude/longitude information, so the center of the Portugal coast was used and noted in the [Notes] column.


Sousa, A. and C. Brito. 2012. Historical strandings of cetaceans on the Portuguese coast: anecdotes, people and naturalists. Marine Biodiversity Records. 5:1-8.



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Attributes in dataset

Attribute (table column)Description
oidUnique ID (generated by SEAMAP)
dateoriginOriginal date information
obs_dateDate of observation
sp_obsSpecies observed
sp_tsnSpecies ITIS TSN
obs_countNumber of animals
locationLocation description
latitudeLatitude of sighting
longitudeLongitude of sighting
strandinfoRelevant stranding information
notesNotes on when time, month, day, and/or latitude/longitude information was not available
Marine mammals38
Sea turtles0
Rays and sharks0
Other species0
Non spatial0
Non species0
Date, Begin1525-12-31
Date, End1977-09-10
Temporal prec.111000
Latitude37.07 - 41.48
Longitude-9.48 - -8.11
Coord. prec.6 decimal digits
Data typeAnimal sighting
Traveled (km)0
Contr. throughACCOBAMS
Sharing policy CC-BY-NC (Minimum)
Shared with OBIS
GBIF (via DOI)
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