23 April 2008

Mediterranean bottlenose dolphin review

The first comprehensive review on the ecology and conservation of Mediterranean bottlenose dolphins will be soon published on the renowned scientific journal ‘Mammal Review’.

The authors, Giovanni Bearzi (Tethys President), Caterina M. Fortuna and Randal R. Reeves merged their collective expertise to summarize and critically review information about the Mediterranean population.

Topics considered in this paper include distribution, population structure and trends, ecology and behaviour, impact on fisheries, past culling campaigns, present threats, and conservation framework. The manuscript is based on an extensive analysis of peer-reviewed scientific literature.

This is going to be the third major review of Mediterranean cetaceans published by Tethys in this same journal. Previous reviews featured the short-beaked common dolphin (Bearzi et al. 2003) and the fin whale (Notarbartolo et al. 2003).

Silvia Bonizzoni

Bearzi G., Fortuna C.M., Reeves R.R. (In press). Ecology and conservation of common bottlenose dolphins Tursiops truncatus in the Mediterranean Sea. Mammal Review.

18 April 2008

EU funding for tuna overexploitation

Oceana – the international ocean conservation organisation – reports that millions of Euros have been allocated for the overexploitation of bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean, calls for the immediate closure of the Balearic fishing grounds, and criticises the contradictory measures adopted by implicated states.

According to Oceana, overcapacity in Mediterranean bluefin tuna fishery denounced by a WWF report (see 12 March post), has been financed by the EU with more than 16 million Euros. The EU purse seine fleets involved in this fishery are from Spain, France and Italy.

Oceana also stressed that management measures and actions by the governments participating in this kind of fishery do not correspond to the reality of the fleet and the state of bluefin tuna stocks.

Once again, scientific recommendations are being ignored. Excessive quotas are established, the fleets continue to fish in spawning grounds, undersized tunas are being caught, illegal vessels catch and land bluefin tuna in unauthorised ports, the fleets continue to ignore the assigned quotas and do not declare the catches.

Silvia Bonizzoni

(Photo by Oceana)

For more information:
Oceana press release
Oceana website
WWF report
Mediterranean Conservation News - 12 March post

17 April 2008

Beautiful Minds

Apes and dolphins: primates and cetaceans. Could any creatures appear to be more different?

Maddalena Bearzi (dolphin biologist) and Craigh Stanford (primatologist), who have spent their careers studying these animals in the wild, combine their insights into a delightful and intriguing book: “Beautiful minds: the parallel lives of great apes and dolphins".

Beautiful Minds explains how and why great apes (chimpanzees, bonobos gorillas and orangutans) and cetaceans (dolphins and whales) are so distantly related yet so cognitively alike and what this teaches us about another large-brained mammal: Homo sapiens. Noting that apes and cetaceans have had no common ancestor in nearly 100 million years, Bearzi and Stanford describe the parallel evolution that gave rise to their intelligence.

Both large-brained mammals are second only to humans in intelligence. They form complex social networks, are capable of deception and manipulation, have sophisticated means of communication and cooperation, solve problems innovatively, transmit cultural traditions to the next generation and are able to imitate others, etc. To explain all of these extraordinary capabilities, authors cite many examples.

In conclusion, Bearzi and Stanford survey the factors making dolphins and apes endangered species. They make a plea for conserving the ecosystems in which they live, because the beautiful minds of these creatures are "a terrible thing to waste."


Bearzi, Maddalena & Craig Stanford (2008). Beautiful Minds: The Parallel Lives of Great Apes and Dolphins. Harvard University Press. 300 pp.

For more information:

10 April 2008

09 April 2008

Trawling near the coasts of Greece

Bottom trawling, a fishing method that drags a large net across the sea floor, is a known threat to the marine environment.

Due to the disruptive nature of this method, the European Regulation currently in force across the Mediterranean forbids trawling closer than 1.5 nautical miles from the seashore.

The Hellenic Centre for Marine Research has also demonstrated that trawling is the least selective of all fishing gears, with an annual bycatch rate up to 44%. The Greek Ministry for Rural Development and Food, in its National Operational Plan for Fisheries 2007-2013, acknowledges that “most benthopelagic species are in a state of relative overfishing or overfishing”.

Despite the European regulation and scientific evidence the Greek Ministry for Rural Development and Food, itself, has recently decided to allow the use of trawling nets at a distance of only 1 nautical mile from the coast.

A coalition of Greek conservation organizations, including Archelon, Mediterranean SOS Network, MOM, Pelagos Cetacean Research Institute, Greenpeace and WWF Greece, is calling for the immediate reversal of this decision, to prevent the destruction of coastal ecosystems and ensure sustainability of fishing in the long term.

Silvia Bonizzoni

For more information:

01 April 2008

Grey whales and climate change

Gray whales that visit Laguna San Ignacio (Mexico) are changing their habits, probably due to the effects of climate change.

Researchers and locals observed that the whales' fall migration south past San Diego, is peaking five days later than it once did, and once they get to Baja California, they're staying two weeks less than they did in the late 1970s. Furthermore, population census show that the number of whales visiting the area is half of what it was decades ago.

The connection with climate change hasn't been definitively proven, but experts believe that climate change is responsible for causing a subtle shift at the base of the Arctic food chain, forcing the whales to modify their feeding and migration patterns.

Silvia Bonizzoni

(The map by NCEAS shows the climate change impact on the world oceans)

For more information: