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Lost Whales

July 16, 2018

Whales used the Mediterranean as breeding grounds during ancient Roman times.

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Aerial view of some of the fish-salting tanks (cetaria) in the ancient Roman city of Baelo Claudia, near today's Tarifa in Spain.  (D. Bernal-Casasola, University of Cadiz)

Aerial view of some of the fish-salting tanks (cetaria) in the ancient Roman city of Baelo Claudia, near today’s Tarifa in Spain. (D. Bernal-Casasola, University of Cadiz)

BOB HIRSHON (host):

Ancient Roman whales. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

The ancient Romans may have had a whaling industry, according to a study in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. French National Centre for Scientific Research ecologist Ana Rodrigues says bones belonging to right whales and gray whales have been identified in the ruins of Roman factories that processed fish 2,000 years ago. This suggests that the whales once bred in warm Mediterranean waters, but have long since disappeared from memory.

ANA RODRIGUES (French National Centre for Scientific Research):

And that expands substantially the known historical distribution of these two species.

HIRSHON:

She says the study is a reminder to put aside our assumptions about the past.

RODRIGUES:

These are some of the largest animals on the planet, and if we’ve forgotten about huge whales coming close to shore, perhaps being hunted, what else did we forget? How much has it changed?

HIRSHON:

I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Story by Susanne Bard