Spain is surrounded on three sides by water, consequently much of the country’s economy has come to rely on the Ocean. Learn more about the sealife in Spain
Spain is surrounded on three sides by water, consequently 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 centres, 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 the 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 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!
The 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 programme there is now hope; a number of small colonies have been spotted off the Spanish coast! Today, the biggest threat to their survival is skindiving. 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-coloured 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!
For 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 centre is home to fish and wildlife from all over the world, from the tropics to the Antartic. It has an excellent global warming exhibition and an open-air pool too, where you can watch dolphin shows!
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.
There is also a smaller aquarium in Benidorm called Mundomar, or SeaWorld, it has a number of enclosures featuring turtles, sea lions and dolphins.
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 labourers! In 2000, Spain exported 99.9 million tonnes of canned fish worth around $300 million, in addition to 149.9 million tonnes of crustanceans and mulloscs, worth around $390 million!
Delicious paella, juicy prawn salad, fresh lobster or crispy calamares served with a bitter slice of zesty lemon are just a few of the tasty dishes freshly served up from the ocean here on the costas. Other popular catches are plaice, tuna, sardines, hake, mackeral, swordfish, octopus, anchovies and mussels. In fact, Spain is the world's biggest exporter of mussels after China.
So, whether you're eating it, watching it or swimming with it, 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 (or eat as much of it) as you can!