Today, saturday 7th July, an article about the Ionian Dolphin Project came out in Ta Nea (Greek: Τα Νέα, Translation: The News). The article “Alarm for the Dolphins of the Ionian and Amvrakikos” was written by Manos Haralabakis. The article discusses the threats faced by dolphin populations present in Greece and, more specifically, in the Inner Ionian Sea archipelago and Amvrakikos Gulf, and encourages boaters and sailors to follow the “Be Dolphin SMART” guidelines and to report their cetacean sightings to the IDP through our on-line user-friendly form.
You can download its original Greek version as a .pdf file or have a look at the on-line version in Ta Nea website. Alternatively, you can read its English translation below.
Alarm for the dolphins in the Ionian and Amvrakikos
By Manos Haralabakis
“Be dolphins smart”, that’s the slogan targeting the general public and produced by scientists of Tethys Research Institute, who have been working for the last 21 years for the conservation of the dolphins in the Inner Ionian Archipelago and the Amvrakikos Gulf. The aim is raise awareness among recreational boats, especially in the summer months, by encouraging them to follow a series of guidelines to avoid disturbing the dolphins and their natural behavior.
For the experts of the Institute this effort is very important for the conservation of dolphins in the waters of Ionian Sea and the Amvrakikos Gulf : “Greek waters are hosting an important diversity of cetaceans, however their present abundance is only a fragment of what it used to be” they said. That’s the reason why in their website http: //www.ioniandolphinproject.org they are presenting a guide of ‘’good behavior’’ when around dolphins.“Our website includes a special section with tips on cetaceans species identification and a series of guidelines about how to behave when coming across a group of dolphins ” indicates at TA NEA marine biologist Joan Gonzalvo, the Project manager and Science coordinator of the Ionian Dolphin Project. “This is what we call Being Dolphin SMART” adds the Catalan scientist who studies the dolphins in the Inner Ionian Archipelago and the Amvrakikos Gulf.One of the main instructions that the scientists of Tethys are giving to the public is that whenever they come across a group of dolphins they should keep a distance of about 50m and put their engine in neutral. Also they advise tourists, fishermen and anyone interacting with the dolphins to avoid feeding, touching or swimming with them. By following the above tips they can help to protect the population of dolphins in the Ionian Sea and the Amvrakikos Gulf.
Report a Sighting
The innovative actions of the Ionian Dolphin Project –which began in 1991-, do not stop there. The research team, taking advantage of the new technologies, want to raise public awareness about dolphins. “If you come across dolphins or whales while sailing the Ionian waters, we want to know more about it.” In this way scientists of Tethys are trying to call the attention of the public in order to help them with their research. “Report a sighting online and help us to shed light on the distribution of cetacean species present in the area and to identify key habitat for their conservation.” Through their website http: //ioniandolphinproject.org/el/report-a-sighting, people can send information about the location where they spot a group of dolphins and more. People is encouraged to provide, when possible, also photos or videos because they can be very helpful for their research.
Morning boat surveys
Early in the morning the research team of the Ionian Dolphin Project is leaving the port of Vonitsa, where is their field base, on board their inflatable boat. At those hours the waters of the Ionian are mostly calm increasing their possibilities to spot dolphins. From the time that spot them, they are approach the dolphin group with their six meter long boat trying not to bother them. Then is the time for the pictures. The researchers are taking lots of pictures that will help them to indentify the dolphins of the group. All this procedure takes place for about 2-3 hours. Once back at the field base the Tethys scientists process all the data collected. An important part of their work is also the maintenance of the research equipment and boat. In addition to fieldwork IDP researchers are organizing lectures and a series of public awareness and educational initiatives in collaboration with Thalassa Project.
The Tethys Research Institute founded at 1986 is a private non-profit organization based in Italy specialized in cetacean research. Their database is among the largest for the marine mammals of the Mediterranean. Since 1991 they are working in the Ionian Sea.
Overfishing and pollution threatens the dolphin populations
The depletion of fish stocks resulting from overfishing is the main threat for dolphins of the Inner Ionian Archipelago. “Greek waters are hosting an important diversity of cetaceans compared to other areas of the Mediterranean Sea. However, due to habitat degradation this diversity is reducing” reports the marine biologist Joan Gonzalvo.
Tethys Research Institute first started the research in the Inner Ionian Archipelago in 1991 trying to study the behavior and the biology of Common Dolphins living in the area. However, after a while the scientist came across an unpleasant reality; the dramatic reduction of the dolphin population. “Common Dolphins decreased in the area dramatically from 150 to 15 animals from 1995 to 2007. Since then only few sightings have been recorded in those waters. The monitoring and the research done during the following years (from 2008 to nowadays) have showed that few animals are still present in the area. The most likely explanation is that they expanded their home range and they are still visiting their former neighborhood from time to time. A series of calls to environmental organizations took place for the protection of these dolphins without having any result.”
Some bottlenose dolphins are also present in the area and their numbers seem to be more stable. From 120 animals that have been photo-identified only one forth appear to be resident, while the rest should be considered transient.
To the question of populations of common dolphins and bottlenose dolphins being healthy, Joan Gonzalvo answers that they are not. “Their main threat in the area is overfishing that leads in the depletion of the fish stock. However, this is not only a problem for the population of dolphins in the area but also for local small-scale fishermen that presently are struggling to fish in order to feed their families and cope with their daily needs”. “The fish stock” underlines Mr. Gonzalvo “is decreasing also because a small fishing fleet of industrial fishing boats(bottom trawlers and purse seiners) are fishing using destructive gear that causes significant damage to the ecosystem and leads to the complete eradication of the marine life in the area. An area which two decades ago, when I first started working here, seemed to be the paradise of every marine biologist”.
However, scientists do not exclude the possibility of part of this reduction being caused by a significant increase of boat traffic in the area. “Recreational boats in the Ionian Islands have been steadily increasing during the last decade.” Scientists of the Ionian Dolphin Project are trying to take advantage of this fact to educate the public (fishermen, sailors, tourists) with the aim to receive valuable data from their dolphins sightings and at the same time to suggest them how to behave to minimize possible impacts to these marine mammals.
Bottlenose dolphins of Amvrakikos Gulf are estimated around 150 individuals. During the last decade their population seems to be stable. However, this does not mean that they are not threatened. The enclosed ecosystem of the Gulf is exposed to increasing anthropogenic activity. The eutrophication and the pollution have been augmenting over the last years. As a result the dolphins of the Amvrakikos, as the scientists of the Ionian Dolphin Project studying them say, are facing a great risk of extinction especially because of their reproductive isolation, the small size of the population and the increased human impact.
Tips to follow if you come across of dolphins or whales
1. Move away cautiously if dolphins/whales show signs of disturbance (sudden change in behavior)
2. The caution zone for vessels is the area within 300m of a whale and 150m of a dolphin. No more than three vessels should stay within the caution zone at any one time and vessels should move cautiously at no wake speeds within this zone
3. Approach whales and dolphins from parallel to and slightly to the rear – not from directly behind or head-on.
4. Stay back 50 meters from dolphins (100m from whales)
5. Always put your engine in neutral when dolphins/whales are near
6. Refrain from feeding, touching, or swimming with wild dolphins
More information at
- Bottlenose Dolphins: is the only specie in the Gulf. Their population seems to be stable around 50 animals, although its facing a great risk of extinction because of the anthropogenic impact
Inner Ionian Archipelago:
- Common Dolphins: their populations reduced from 150 to 15 animals from 1995 to 2007
- Bottlenose Dolphins: 120 have been photo-indentified
- Striped Dolphins: only opportunistic sightings