24 December 2009
"Protecting even small patches of water can provide conservation benefits, as long as we choose the spots wisely," said Erin Ashe, author of a recent publication on the behaviour of killer whales (in British Columbia and Washington State) and marine protected areas.
Ashe and colleagues suggested that even small protected areas, identified through feeding behaviour, can benefit highly mobile marine predators such as killer whales. They indicated this after mapping locations where killer whales were observed feeding, socializing and resting, and identifying a small area in which whales were almost three times as likely to be feeding as they were in the rest of the region.
Protecting this little area could be crucial for two reasons. First, Chinook salmon, the favourite prey of this cetacean population, has declined in the region. Second killer whales are more disturbed by boat traffic when engaged in feeding activities than when they are travelling. Researchers think that management strategies to protect feeding hotspots should give greater conservation benefits than a generic habitat protection.
Ashe E., Noren D.P., Williams R. 2009. Animal behaviour and protected areas: habitat conservation for an endangered killer whale population. Animal Conservation. DOI:10.1111/j.1469-1795.2009.00321.x
For more information:
21 December 2009
Between December 10th and 11th seven sperm whales stranded and died - on the northern coast of the Gargano Peninsula (Apulia, Italy). They were all sub-adult males.
After several meetings the experts decided what to do with the dead animals, but in the meantime the carcasses are still on the beach. Each animal will be cut into parts. Carcasses will then be buried and covered with ground and lime. The decomposition process is expected to complete in one year. At the end of this period the skeletons will be recovered, treated and displayed in museums.
Numerous hypotheses were made regarding the causes of the stranding, from plastic ingestion to seismic surveys, seaquakes, etc. But the fact is: the reasons are still unknown and the experts are working hard to find out.
19 December 2009
A recent review describes how the Mediterranean Sea could offer an idea of the disastrous future of the oceans.
This review of more than 100 studies on the Mediterranean’s changing ecological dynamics, describes the convergence of climate change and human impacts in waters that had been stable since the time of Aristotle.
Rising temperatures, disrupted deep-water hydrology, overfishing, shrinked food-webs, mass die-offs, diseases and pollution are some of the threats that are affecting the Mediterranean Sea. Other sea areas on Earth may not escape from this sad degradation destiny. The future doesn’t look so nice...
Lejeusne C., Chevaldonné P., Pergent-Martini C., Boudouresque C.F., Pérez T. 2009. Climate change effects on a miniature ocean: the highly diverse, highly impacted Mediterranean Sea. Trends in Ecology and Evolution. doi:10.1016/j.tree.2009.10.009
Little doubt is left that climate change is underway, strongly affecting the Earth's biodiversity. Some of the greatest challenges ahead concern the marine realm, but it is unclear to what extent changes will affect marine ecosystems. The Mediterranean Sea could give us some of the answers. Data recovered from its shores and depths have shown that sea temperatures are steadily increasing, extreme climatic events and related disease outbreaks are becoming more frequent, faunas are shifting, and invasive species are spreading. This miniature ocean can serve as a giant mesocosm of the world's oceans, with various sources of disturbances interacting synergistically and therefore providing an insight into a major unknown: how resilient are marine ecosystems, and how will their current functioning be modified?
For more information:
14 December 2009
12 December 2009
Between Thursday 10 and Friday 11 December a pod of seven sperm whales stranded on the coast of the Gargano Peninsula (Italy), in the Adriatic Sea.
The animals, including several males of 10+ m, are scattered along a stretch of about six km of beach. Five have already died.
Scientists from the Centro Studi Cetacei, the Natural History Museum of Milan, and the Italian universities of Bari, Padua, Pavia and Siena, among others, are on site and coordinate operations and scientific analyses.
Giovanni Bearzi and Silvia Bonizzoni, who live in Apulia not too far from the stranding area, went to have a look.
See what they found:
The water then returned: what started like a trickle, later became an event of biblical proportions which filled the Mediterranean in under two years. At peak times, the sea level rose by up to ten meters a day - the largest known flood in Earth's history.
Daniel Garcia-Castellanos of the Jaume Almera Institute of Earth Sciences in Barcelona, Spain, and colleagues, who published their work on Nature, estimate the peak flow to have been around 1000 times higher than the present Amazon river at its highest rate.
Eleonora de Sabata
For more information:
- Catastrophic flood of the Mediterranean after the Messinian salinity crisis
- Castellano's page
11 December 2009
Blue whales are not singing as they were used to do. Their songs’ tonal frequency is decreasing every year by a few fractions of an hertz.
Global warming, noise pollution, changing population dynamics and new mating strategies are the possible reasons, but none of these hypotheses provide a full explanation and researchers have not yet found the real clue.
McDonald M., Hildebrand J., Mesnick S. 2009. Worldwide decline in tonal frequencies of blue whale songs. Endangered Species Research 9:13-21.
Blue whale Balaenoptera musculus songs can be divided into at least 10 types worldwide, each type retaining the same units and similar phrasing over decades, unlike humpback whale song which changes substantially from year to year. Historical acoustic recordings dating back as far as the 1960s were examined, measuring the tonal frequencies of 1000s of blue whale songs. Within a given year, individuals match the song frequency (related to ‘pitch’ in musical nomenclature) to within less than 3%. The best documented song type, that observed offshore of California, USA, now is sung at a frequency 31% lower than it was in the 1960s. Data available for 7 of the world’s 10 known song types show they are all shifting downward in frequency, though at different rates. Any behavioral, ecological, oceanographic or anthropogenic change hypothesis seeking to explain the observed shifts should account for the worldwide occurrence of a nearly linear downward shift in the tonal frequencies of blue whale song. Hypotheses examined consider sexual selection, increasing ocean noise, increasing whale body size post whaling, global warming, interference from other animal sounds and post whaling increases in abundance. None of the commonly suggested hypotheses were found to provide a full explanation; however, increasing population size post whaling provides an intriguing and testable hypothesis that recovery is altering the sexually selected tradeoff for singing males between song amplitude (the ability to be heard at a greater distance) and song frequency (the ability to produce songs of lower pitch).
09 December 2009
Oceans for Pathi is a new nature film based on revolutionary techniques that allowed enjoying the secrets of the oceans as never before.
Thanks to remote-controlled mini helicopters and hydrodynamic cameras, the film reached the goal of ‘catching’ the ocean's most intimate events. For this purpose the crew worked in 50 different locations and filmed 80 marine species, from crabs to whales.
It took four years, 500 hours of footage and £45 million to be produced but the result must be amazing!
The film will be out for general release by the end of January 2010.
Photo by Barcroft Media: an example of how some whale footage was obtained.
More information in the DailyMail article
01 December 2009
Joe Borg, the European Fishery Commissioner, revealed that €23 million was given to fund the construction of new boats, including ultra-modern purse seiners that are able to land 100 tonnes in one haul. A further €10.5 million was given to modernise existing vessels, increasing their ability to track down and catch the tuna. Only €1 million was used to decommission vessels, but mainly for small-scale, local boats.
Spain received more than half of the subsidy, with French and Italian fleets the next biggest beneficiaries. Cyprus, Malta and Greece were also given money.
Scientists from ICCAT (International Council for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna) believe that the bluefin tuna stock was below 15 per cent of its pre-exploitation levels.
Eleonora de Sabata
30 November 2009
The report is a pilot exercise, based on available sources of information and covers the 21 countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. It finds that climate change is already occurring in the region and forecasts that it will lead to, inter alia, a decline in rainfall, increased periods of droughts and rises in sea-level. The report also identifies the most vulnerable Mediterranean zones and states that climate change will also affect agriculture and fishing, the attractiveness of tourism, coastal zones and infrastructure, and public health.
Eleonora de Sabata
26 November 2009
On November 23rd, Tethys researcher Sabina Airoldi, director of the Cetacean Sanctuary Research project, took part in the TV programme Geo&Geo, aired on the Italian channel Rai Tre.
Sabina talked about whales and dolphins in the Mediterranean Sea, particularly in the Pelagos Sanctuary, also discussing the problem of collisions between ships and large whales.
Following Sabina's participation in this popular TV programme, the website on whale collisions managed by Tethys had several hundreds of new visitors from all over Italy in the following days. It was an important opportunity to let the general public know about the cetacean conservation initiatives conducted by Tethys.
25 November 2009
Rome, Nov 23 2009 - A new FAO treaty to fight illegal fishing - finalised by 91 countries - is now open for signature by member states. The agreement will legally enter into force after 25 countries have ratified it.
Officially known as the Agreement of Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing, the treaty specifies minimum standards for inspection.
Under the terms of the text, foreign vessels will have to request permission in advance to dock at specially designated ports and will have to provide information on their catch. Signatories will also commit to regularly inspect fishing vessels in their ports according to a set of international standards. Port States will be obliged to prohibit entry to illegal fishing vessels.
So far the situation is not good: a research by the Pew Environment Group shows that while some vessels known to engage in IUU fishing are penalised by port authorities, many are entirely unaffected or simply manage to escape penalties by moving out of the convention area where they were listed.
Environmental groups estimate that one-fifth of all fish landed are caught illegally.
Eleonora de Sabata
For more information:
Pew Environment Group: Port State Performance
FAO press release: New treaty will leave ‘fish pirates’ without safe haven
23 November 2009
22 November 2009
Tails for Whales is an IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare) project and a global campaign.
The idea is simple: take a photo of you with your hands shaping a whale tail, and add your photo to the ‘tails for whales’ community.
These photos will be used to create posters, TV ads and petitions to encourage governments everywhere to do all they can to stop whaling.
This project received support from many government members as well as some of the world’s most familiar faces... let’s join them!
For more information:
18 November 2009
A review of Japanese government spending could put an end to Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.
Japan's new government is looking for ways to cut useless costs and, to reach this goal, the new prime minister Yukio Hatoyama has established a spending review committee.
This committee has recently proposed massive cuts in subsidies to the Overseas Fishery Cooperation Foundation (OFCF), the largest financer of the Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR) which runs the so-called ‘whaling research programme’.
The committee recommended that the OFCF, which gives loans to the ICR, have all of its funding revoked, except monies needed for loans in 2010.
It seems that the whaling research program is not able to cover its costs, and without government subsidies it could be finally destined to an end.
The spending review committee will review funding of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Grant Aid programme during the week of November 24th.
Photo by: Australian Custom Service
For more information:
Article on Environment News Service web-site
Article on Greenpeace web-site
17 November 2009
A new toll is being used by cetologists.
Traditional acoustic devices on the ocean surface typically are not able to record whale sounds emitted at lower depths, but this two-metre-long underwater glider is equipped with a recording device to collect acoustic data, particularly by deep divers such as the beaked whales (Ziphiidae).
Oceanographers started using underwater gliders more than a decade ago to study ocean conditions and parameters, but this is the first time that an acoustic glider has been deployed to record marine mammals.
For more information:
Photo by: Applied Physics Laboratory, University of Washington
13 November 2009
Maybe the queerest of all is the hippies’ ‘make love not war’ primate, the bonobo. These dudes have no sexual inhibitions whatsoever. Aside from casual hetero sex, there is a startling degree of homo- hanky-panky and other non-reproductive sexual goings-on in the bonobo community. For example, females frequently stimulate each others’ clitorises in an act called GG- rubbing (often reaching orgasm judging by their huge ‘grins’ and the uttering of squeals), and the males leisurely indulge in activities such as penis- fencing (rubbing erect penises together as if crossing swords), rump-rumping (scrotal rubbing), and old fashioned anal penetration, hand- jobs and blow-jobs.
Admittedly, most animals are bisexual, but some individuals appear to be exclusively gay, such as the two inseparable Central Park Zoo penguins Roy and Silo, who adamantly refuse female companionship. This, however, creates an evolutionary paradox; exclusive same-sex interaction does not result in procreation, so why does it exist?
Most scientists approach this paradox by trying to pinpoint straightforward biological causes for homosexuality, such as abnormal levels of sex hormones in those brain areas responsible for sexual behaviour. However, these theories share the homophobic attitude that animal, and by extension human, same-sex attraction is in some way an ‘aberrant’ phenomenon that requires an ‘explanation’. But as John Boswell has remarked; ‘What ‘causes’ homosexuality is an issue of importance only to societies which regard gay people as bizarre or anomalous’. In many indigenous cultures homosexuality is freely expressed and is often part of a boy’s puberty rites to gain masculine strength. Dr Bruce Bagemihl, author of Biological Exuberance, argues further that the existence of homosexuality is its function; it is ‘intrinsically valuable’ because it adds to the biological diversity of nature, and the more diverse a biological system, the more vital and stable it is.
By definition there is no unnaturalness in nature, so same-sex attraction must have some Darwinian ‘value’. Maybe we are so blinded by Victorian prejudices and religious hush-hush that we find it hard to accept the queerness of nature and as a result fail to see its true evolutionary significance, whatever it might be. As J.B.S Haldane said; ‘The world is not only queerer than we suppose, it is queerer than we can suppose’.
12 November 2009
Due to overfishing of sardines and anchovies off the coast of South Africa, the population of cape gannets has dwindled, but this is not the only problem that they are facing.
On the island of Malgas, one of the only six places where gannets breed, the great white pelicans are starving too, so they are changing their feeding behaviour.
Usually one gannet parent takes care of the chicks while the other is hunting out at sea. But the lack of prey is now forcing both parents to go hunting in the same time, leaving the little vulnerable offspring alone. Pelicans are taking advantage of this situation: they attack and eat any gannet chick left unprotected by its parents and small enough to be swallowed. As a result, entire gannet colonies are increasingly in danger.
For more information and to see the BBC video:
11 November 2009
One of the most mysterious moments of a sperm whale life has been caught on camera.
The amazing pictures show an adult female sperm whale carrying the remains of a 9-m giant squid in her jaws. The female was swimming a few metres under the water surface together with a calf, and experts think that these pictures may confirm that adult sperm whales use pieces of their prey to teach offsprings how to catch their own.
The photos were taken by photographer Tony Wu near Ogasawara Islands, Japan.
See the photos at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk
10 November 2009
07 November 2009
An amazing and convincing video prompting people to give up something useless and do something useful.
05 November 2009
04 November 2009
03 November 2009
People who claim that population growth is the big environmental issue are shifting the blame from the rich to the poor.
An nonconformist article by George Monbiot published in The Guardian. Worth reading it all.
No time? Then enjoy the short excerpt below:
While there’s a weak correlation between global warming and population growth, there’s a strong correlation between global warming and wealth. I’ve been taking a look at a few superyachts, as I’ll need somewhere to entertain Labour ministers in the style to which they’re accustomed. First I went through the plans for Royal Falcon Fleet’s RFF135, but when I discovered that it burns only 750 litres of fuel per hour I realised that it wasn’t going to impress Lord Mandelson. I might raise half an eyebrow in Brighton with the Overmarine Mangusta 105, which sucks up 850 l/hr. But the raft that’s really caught my eye is made by Wally Yachts in Monaco. The WallyPower 118 (which gives total wallies a sensation of power) consumes 3400 l/hr when travelling at 60 knots. That’s nearly one litre per second. Another way of putting it is 31 litres per kilometre.
Of course to make a real splash I’ll have to shell out on teak and mahogany fittings, carry a few jet skis and a mini-submarine, ferry my guests to the marina by private plane and helicopter, offer them bluefin tuna sushi and beluga caviar and drive the beast so fast that I mash up half the marine life of the Mediterranean. As the owner of one of these yachts I’ll do more damage to the biosphere in ten minutes than most Africans inflict in a lifetime. Now we’re burning, baby.
02 November 2009
Can small actions bring big results?
Apparently, they can -- as suggested by a recent article appeared on PNAS:
Thomas Dietz, Gerald T. Gardner, Jonathan Gilligan, Paul C. Stern and Michael P. Vandenbergh. 2009. Household actions can provide a behavioral wedge to rapidly reduce U.S. carbon emissions. PNAS 106(44):18452-18456.
The following video conveys a consistent message:
31 October 2009
Simply noticing and recording the disturbing trends of a degraded world is a virtue of science and all those practicing it. The process reveals a lot of information about the world around us. But information alone is not enough to mobilize action on the scale required to make that world a healthier and more desirable place for our children. A set of political relationships with this, that, or the other political party is not enough. Nor are relationships in the marketplace. Nor a broad appeal to beauty. In this video clip, the writer Carl Safina speaks about the kind of relationship he believes is required.
30 October 2009
There is growing concern about the effects of wildlife tourism on biologically important parameters in target species and/or populations. We tested whether whale watch vessel exposure affected either the calving rates or calf survival to age 2 in humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) on their feeding grounds off of southern New England, where individually identified whales have been studied intensively for decades and whale watch pressure is intense. Whale watch exposure did not correlate with either the calving rate (# of calves/# of years sighted) or calf production and survival of individual females, although a breakpoint analysis showed a slight negative trend up to 1649 min (or 20 boat interactions). In some comparisons, whales with more exposure were significantly more likely to produce calves and to have those calves survive. Logistic regressions including exposure and prey variables also failed to show negative effects of exposure in predicting calf productivity or survival. A limited comparison of calves seen only in an alternate habitat without whale watching showed similar return rates to those in the exposed area. Our data include limited suggestions that some animals (i.e., females alive when whale watching started) might be more susceptible to impacts than others. However, we found no direct evidence for negative effects of whale watch exposure, and suggest that short-term disturbance may not necessarily be indicative of more meaningful detrimental effects on either individuals or populations.
28 October 2009
OCEANA recently presented a comprehensive and convincing proof on the continued use of illegal driftnets in the Mediterranean and demanded their complete elimination.
Oceana documented 92 Italian vessels in 2008 with driftnets on board, of which 80% had already been identified in previous years.
The European Court of Justice is expected to sentence Italy for the continued use of this illegal fishing gear.
Download the Oceana report on swordfish and driftnets in the Mediterranean (13.1 Mb)
Action brought on 10 June 2008 — Commission of the European Communities vs Italian Republic
Photo credit: Oceana / Juan Cuetos
26 October 2009
23 October 2009
The Ionian Dolphin Project, a long-term research and conservation programme conducted by Tethys in the eastern Ionian Sea, has recently completed a report of the activities done in the context of its three study areas in Greece: Gulf of Amvrakikos, Gulf of Corinth and Inner Ionian Sea Archipelago.
The online version of the report can be viewed at the link below:
(also see pages of the Menu)
the links above have been updated since the web site was modified in August 2010.
18 October 2009
A new paper from the University of Adelaide and the Macquarie University, Australia, suggests that conservation biologists are making a big mistake.
They are setting too low the minimum number of individuals considered needed for a species to survive in the long term. This would underestimates the risk of extinction by not fully allowing for the dangers posed by the loss of genetic diversity.
The authors point out that, often, conservation biologists "aim to maintain tens or hundreds of individuals, when thousands are actually needed".
The article found that "populations smaller than about 5000 had unacceptably high extinction rates". According to the authors, this suggests that many targets for conservation recovery are simply too small to do much good in the long run.
Image from: http://susty.com/iucn-red-list-threatened-endangered-species/
Traill L.W., Brook B.W., Frankham R.R., Bradshaw C.J.A. 2009. Pragmatic population viability targets in a rapidly changing world. Biological Conservation. DOI: 10.1016/j.biocon.2009.09.001
Abstract: To ensure both long-term persistence and evolutionary potential, the required number of individuals in a population often greatly exceeds the targets proposed by conservation management. We critically review minimum population size requirements for species based on empirical and theoretical estimates made over the past few decades. This literature collectively shows that thousands (not hundreds) of individuals are required for a population to have an acceptable probability of riding-out environmental fluctuation and catastrophic events, and ensuring the continuation of evolutionary processes. The evidence is clear, yet conservation policy does not appear to reflect these findings, with pragmatic concerns on feasibility over-riding biological risk assessment. As such, we argue that conservation biology faces a dilemma akin to those working on the physical basis of climate change, where scientific recommendations on carbon emission reductions are compromised by policy makers. There is no obvious resolution other than a more explicit acceptance of the trade-offs implied when population viability requirements are ignored. We recommend that conservation planners include demographic and genetic thresholds in their assessments, and recognise implicit triage where these are not met.
For more information:
16 October 2009
And see the original article:
Howard C. Rosenbaum, Cristina Pomilla, Martin Mendez, Matthew S. Leslie, Peter B. Best, Ken P. Findlay, Gianna Minton, Peter J. Ersts, Timothy Collins, Marcia H. Engel, Sandro L. Bonatto, Deon P. G. H. Kotze, Mike Meÿer, Jaco Barendse, Meredith Thornton, Yvette Razafindrakoto, Solange Ngouessono, Michel Vely, Jeremy Kiszka. 2009. Population structure of humpback whales from their breeding grounds in the South Atlantic and Indian Oceans. PLoS ONE 4 (10): e7318 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0007318
15 October 2009
14 October 2009
13 October 2009
12 October 2009
A simple game to calculate our ecological footprint and carbon emissions. In other words, a way of finding out out how heavy is our lifestyle impact on the planet.
Personally, I thought that I was doing quite well, but it turns out that my living standards would require about 2.2 planets... obviously there is much more that I can and should do!
Try this game, and see if you can further reduce your impact on the environment.
11 October 2009
Weather logs kept by Captain James Cook and other 18th and 19th century explorers are being used by scientists to predict the change in climate.
Read more at:
10 October 2009
I loved this experience! Joan and Zsuzsanna were awesome. They were patient and increased my understanding of dolphins and the impact of overfishing. At the end of the project I had a much better understanding of how field research in marine biology is done. I now feel I can make better consumer choices on which fish to buy that are not a burden on the environment. I can also educate my friends and family on what I learned at the Dolphins of Greece expedition about overfishing, so they too can make wiser consumer choices. Overall this trip was very informative but most of all a lot of fun. I had a great time with the other volunteers on the boat, cooking, cropping and matching dolphin photos. I leave with great memories!
Images of Vonitsa
calm, glassy seas,
a juvenile leaps!
Then, rides the bow... Wow!
Learn to shout out
“dolphin out at 2 o’clock at 50 meters”
when all you can blurt,
“my god, that’s a dolphin...right there”
The castle lit at night,
laughter at the table,
a lucky dog named Poseidon.
Mary Beth, my friend,
Irina, a new friend.
Susanna, so pretty,
so sweet, but, what a taskmaster!
Joan, a flirt with his wink,
passionate, stern and authoritative (well, he tries).
This is my third attempt to write in this diary... now I know why I never owned one! A Greek saying comes to mind “Ta polla logia ine ftohia...” meaning that saying to much defeats the purpose... or something like that! So... from the bottom of my heart I want to thank all of you, Joan, Susie, Suzanne, Maribeth and of course Posi and the dolphins for making this week one that i will cherish for the rest of my life! Learned a lot, laughed a lot, looked a lot, bounced a lot, guessed a lot (+/-100 meters!) and of course ate A LOT! Loved it all! Thank you guys.
09 October 2009
Tiny cameras attached to the backs of four Antarctic albatrosses have revealed a clever feeding strategy: instead of randomly scanning the open ocean for prey, some birds appear to fly alongside killer whales and scavenge for scraps left by the mammalian predators.
Read more at:
08 October 2009
07 October 2009
CBD-Habitat documented a monk seal birth in the Mediterranean colony located in the Cabo Blanco peninsula (Morocco/Mauritania), as reported yesterday to the MARMAM list.
On September 22nd, a newborn pup was observed in an open beach. There are no records of such an event in decades, in which seals were persecuted leading them to abandon open beaches and use exclusively marine caves to haul out and breed.
Acording to CBD-Habitat, one of the main set of actions of the Action Plan for the recovery of Mediterranean monk seal in the Eastern Atlantic developed by the governments of Spain, Portugal, Morocco and Mauritania was to “promote the occupation of beaches as breeding and resting habitat”.
During the last 9 years, and under these guidelines established by the Action Plan, the protection of breeding caves and vicinities by CBD-Habitat project has been intense reducing to a minimum disturbances caused by goose barnacle pickers, fishermen as well as the threat of illegal setting of artisan fishing gears in the area.
After years of continuous efforts, monk seals have began to progressively re-colonize open beaches of the protected area for hauling out. The final step, the use of open beaches as breeding habitat is the event that took place in September, perhaps the beginning of a new conservation path for this colony.
The pup is a female and is in good shape condition. The birth took place in a beach located a few hundreds of meters south of one of the main breeding caves.
This fact joins the progressive recovery of the population, which in 1998 was estimated to have a size of around 100 individuals and that today is almost reaching 200. Although the situation is still critical, these last events bring hope for the future of this population and the species.
Message sent to the MARMAM list by Pablo Fernandez de Larrinoa
Programa de conservación de la foca monje en Cabo Blanco
Fundación CBD-Habitat, Madrid, Spain
Photo by CBD-Habitat
06 October 2009
Learn more at:
03 October 2009
02 October 2009
The Ionian Dolphin Project in the Gulf of Corinth has recently concluded its first research season, with a total of 58 dolphin sightings.
We are happy about the work done in 2009, and we would like to thank all the 66 volunteers who participated in the Delphi’s Dolphins field courses and helped us with the research.
Participants in our dolphin research programme came from 18 different countries: Australia, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, China, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Lithuania, The Netherlands, Russia, UK, and USA.
A big THANK YOU to our volunteers:
Gunda, William, Ramona, Dagmar, Hermann, Clara, Tony, Peter, Jacqueline, Luke, Aimee, Dipti, Agnes, Julia, Eddie, Hilary, Juliette, Zuzana, Emilie, Rebecca, Emilie, Neysa, Emma, Susan, Elektra, Cate, Katherine, Sara, Heather, Catherine, Delphine, Ana, Julja, Jenny, Rebecca, Russell, Hannah, Amie, Kelly, Petra, Felicity, Christian, Roberta, Nadine, Jacqueline, Julia, Grace, Odile, Alice, Gaelle, Catherine, Yvette, Anthony, Elisabetta, Paul, Helen, Jade, Dora, Orsolya, Victoria, Levanna, Ellie, Alyssa, Tracy, Joanne, and Esther (*).
The IDP staff 2009:
Silvia, Stefano, Joan, Susie, Aina, Tilen, Giovanni
(*): in order of participation
30 September 2009
This was truly the experience of a lifetime. I was the lucky winner of a drawing at my company, Petro-Diamond, for an Earthwatch expedition. I chose “The Dolphins of Greece” for a few reasons, the first was... I wanted to see Greece. I did not see myself coming to Greece on a vacation, so I wanted to take the opportunity to visit this beautiful land. The second reason was because I have always found dolphins to be interesting, more interesting than the other creatures of the sea, almost like they have a kinship with humans somehow. I have been forever changed in my appreciation for these beautiful animals. Joan and Aina were so patient with the team the first day at sea out of Vonitsa, we were a bit overwhelmed with the number of dolphins all around us. It was such a wonderful sight!! Dolphins everywhere... literally everywhere that you looked. It was difficult to stay focused on the project at hand and not be in awe of what was in front of you. Once we were back at the house, we began the cropping, grouping and matching... so many differences in a dorsal fin, who knew? Well, I know now.
I will forever view the sea differently and have a deep appreciation for sealife and especially the beautiful dolphins. The meals together were a highlight, planning and prepareing and cleaning up after them, all of it was a delight. I would like to thank Joan and Aina for the hospitality that they showed us during our stay (Posi was a great addition to the group considering I miss my dogs that are at home in Cali). Joan was truly entertaining (funny and straight-up... love that) and a good sport to host us for most of our expedition without an assistant. Also, thank you to Earthwatch for giving me the opportunity to have this experience. Lastly, thank you to my team... I truly felt that we worked well as a group in the boat and back at the house! Thank goodness that we had playing cards, and David to teach us every game known to man!!
This morning we woke up ready to make the most of our last day at sea, and after poor weather kept us moored in the house for two days prior, we were ready for it. As the boat shuttled out past the marina this morning, we headed toward the open gulf in search of dolphins, one last sighting, one last day to help with the conservation efforts of Tethys Institute and our research leader, Joan Gonzalvo. I looked down at the water beside me, to the left side of the rubber inflated boat. The clarity of the water became more opaque as we headed further out, but was still translucent enough to allow sightings of dolphins bowriding, a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ scenario that I was lucky enough to witness on our most recent sighting. It wouldn’t occur today, but I kept my eyes peeled, in case. I also kept an eye further out, where the sea appeared as a dark teal that deepened in color as the depth of the water increased. Ahead of the bow, the dark water wrinkled just enough for small waves to sift up and back into the water again, hosting small spots of sunlight that sparkled like diamonds laid upon a velvet cloth. The sun beckoned freckles forth from the pale skin of my nose and I basked in the warmth, as I kept my eyes trained on the water. ‘Just one’, I thought, ‘we just need one sighting and the rest will follow’. Finally, Joan shouted out, ‘One o’clock! Far out!’ And the boat throttled faster toward the direction of his outstrectched hand. We continually thereafter spotted a small group, maybe between four and six dolphins. By now, we had been through the routine of spotting and counting these animals, but the sightings were just as awe-inspiring, watching sleek slate grey beasts rise and fall soundlessly out of the iron sea.
Toward the end of the day, I glanced over my shoulder at our boat’s stern – the water beyond us had taken on an icy blue appearance that seemed as flat as glass below the mountains of the region, giant monoliths that faded into the mist like shadows. I shook myself from the mesmerizing sight. Someone had spotted our guy, one single solitary dolphin traveling alone, with no telltale marks yet, but the ability to capture our hearts. I snapped several photos with my personal camera, unable to tell from the glare whether it was a good shot or not. Luckily I did end up with one good shot of the cetacean emerging from the sea – one single solitary shot - but a million memories will linger in my mind. From trying out my greetings in Greek with the locals to snapping photos of the grapes hanging off their trellises; avoiding jelly fish at the beach with purple centers that remind me of brains; traveling to Lefkada and Poros for day trips; cooking together and sharing meals; this has been a well thought out and wonderful trip. On this eighth day, I didn’t spot any sea turtles, but rumor has it, they’re around. When end of the work day was near, we witnessed a pelican to the far right by a small rust colored island covered with a dusting of nubby logan green bushes. This was a nice bonus. Finally we turned the boat south and headed back to Vonitsa, tired and mentally fatigued, but content. By now, we’d witnessed mothers and their calves, groups of dolphins feeding and leaping, often swimming so close together in small groups of two or three that from a distance they almost appeared to be the same animal. From time to time members of our team glanced at each other, exchanging smiles, watching the dolphins living peacefully and seemingly unperturbed, with no need to put on a show for us - this was the real thing. It was something only we knew.
I’ll never forget this experience, these people and the wonderful Greek people of Vonitsa. Joan, you were right – and every mishap that happened to me along the way was worth it. I’ll second the opinion of past volunteers- the videos impacted me tremendously and I’ve already begun to share the Whaletrackers links with friends and family. To Earthwatch, Tethys, and my teammates: Thanks for everything. One of my favorite responsibilities was jumping from the boat to shore with the ropes. Thanks for letting me. PS –I had the best seat in the house at the bow of the boat!
29 September 2009
In the coming issue of Nature researchers propose critical planetary boundaries that should not be transgressed.
Learn more at:
28 September 2009
As the last day of the expedition comes to an end, I am able to reflect on all the information I have learned and gathered from watching the documentaries, presentations, and dolphin sightings this past week. Although I have some previous knowledge about overfishing and dolphins, coming on the project has reminded me how naive the rest of the world actually is and the need to spread more conservation awareness. Perhaps people just need more hands on experience to realize the danger humans pose to wildlife and the need to help them. Thanks to Joan and Aina for being patient with us and for helping us learn more about dolphins while having fun with us. Maybe, one day, we will randomly meet again somewhere, whether it is the water or in another country! Organizations like Earthwatch give us a wonderful eye-opening experience and hopefully, more people will be able to join projects like this one. Thanks!
The last day has arrived and we are getting ready to depart. The Dolphins of Greece expedition has met all my expectations and more! The sightings of the dolphins were spectacular and Joan and Aina were great teachers. Their strongest aspect was showing their enthusiasm and dedication to the research and imparting their knowledge on us. What I will take out of this experience is the education. The videos had such an impact; they bring the criticality of the environmental aspects and the impact of the choices we make. Understanding the critical linkages to the environment and the future of all marine mammals and fish were eye opening. I know that my personal choices will be reinforced. I will also search out for opportunities to help others bridge that knowledge to bring about change, which will be my ultimate challenge. Thank you again for the great experience. The only thing I would change is altering my approach to my turn at cooking. Fine restaurants or doing all the dishes for the week would be great incentives and a lot more pleasurable for everyone. Thanks!
This having been my first environmental expedition and first time to Greece, there was a lot to take in and experience. Outside of the opportunity this provided to observe the unique characteristics of Greek and Spanish... sorry, “Catalan” cultures, I came away with a deeper insight and greater appreciation for the men and women that dedicate their lives to bring about environmental awareness and global change. Not to mention further fuelling my desire to remain involved in conservation endeavors, while exploring the rest of the globe.
27 September 2009
Conservation implications should guide the application of conservation genetics research
by Briar J. Howes, Richard Pither and Kent A. Prior
ABSTRACT: Genetics research can reveal important insights into the effective management of species at risk, yet research does not often translate into meaningful management outcomes. Before engaging in genetics research, conservation practitioners should carefully consider the resulting management outcomes by identifying the potential results of the proposed research, the conservation implications of the results, whether these implications call for a change in management practices, and whether such a change is possible. We provide a decision key to aid practitioners in evaluating the merit of a particular genetics research question, and we demonstrate the use of this key with 2 example research questions.
Full text in pdf format:
26 September 2009
I can honestly say that my time working with Tethys has been a truly great experience. Many thanks to Stefano and Susie for their hospitality, and the knowledge and experience that they have shared with us.We were very lucky to observe both striped and bottlenose dolphins. I felt honoured to have observed these magnificent creatures, and proud to be part of a team collecting research data. The lectures provided by Susie and Stefano have made me realise how fragile the ecosystem is and the impact of overfishing on cetaceans and the world. I shall pass this knowledge onto my friends and family and now make educated choices about only eating fish caught from sustainable sources. I hope that the data I collected for Tethys was useful and I really do hope to return again. Many thanks to Tracy and Esti who were a pleasure to live and work with, and I do hope we will keep in touch! Again, thank you to Stefano and Susie and all the Tethys staff and volunteers, it is valuable and wonderful job that you do.
Stefano and Susie are teaching me step-by-step how to survey the dolphins, record the data and learn more about their lives and the marine environment. Today, our second day at sea, we were thrilled to see 5 dolphins near the fish farm. 3 adults and 2 calves dived around for about an hour. They were hard to spot because the adults kept their distance from our boat to protect their calves. Esti has delighted us with delishes Israeli meals and a new kitten keeps us occupied during the cafe breaks. Today, we also took a long walk through town after lunch and took many, many photos of the beautiful homes and landmarks of Galaxidi. Tomorrow, I'll brave the waters for a swim!
We had a great day at sea today. We ventured a little further out of Galaxidi and spotted the elusive striped dolphins in choppy conditions. 'Out at 3!', 'Out at 11!', 'Out at 6!'...they were all around us in a group of about 15 adults. We spent about an hour gathering data, taking photos, and observing their behavior as they swam under our boat and by our side. It's quite an adrenaline rush when they're so close and playful. When we spot the dolphins that early in the morning, we know it's going to be the start of a very good day! In the afternoon, Esti, Joanne and I took a bus ride to Delphi. Unfortunately most of the site was closed due to falling rocks from the mountains above (safety hazard), but we still enjoyed the site, the town and the view of the valley below. For dinner, Stefano made his famous pizzas-both vegetarian and meat-lovers style. I'm sure we'll all sleep well tonight! Thank you for delighting us once again with such a lovely supper.
Today, the weather was good, the winds were low and we had smoother waters for seeing the dolphins. It took a little longer to find them, but Stefano decided to swing by the fish farm one more time. There, Joanne and I both spotted something dark floating on the surface of the water. We were afraid it was a dolphin carcass, but it turned out to be a large sea turtle! We tried to turn around to take a photo, but it took one look up before going down for a deep dive. We didn't see it again. One more species to add to our sightings: common dolphins, striped dolphins, jellyfish, and now sea turtles. All we need is a whale sighting to really make our day! Directly in front of the fish farm Susie spotted on dolphin circling around for food. It turned out to be a familiar friend...Nemo. Susie told us that he tends to swim alone and that this is an odd behavior for a dolphin. It is a sign that something's not quite right with Nemo, he should be interacting with his peer group. We stayed with Nemo for about an hour before heading back to the pier, but not before stopping in shallower waters for a refreshing swim. I jumped in right along with Esti and Susie. It was the perfect end to another great morning of data collection. Tonight, we celebrated our successful day with a dinner at one of the local restaurants by the pier. We all enjoyed a traditional Greek menu: souvlaki, feta, fried potatoes, beetroot salad, tzatziki, and so much more. The local business owners are so kind and accomodating. It's been a real pleasure getting to know all the familiar faces in town.
Today is my last full day of the program. It's been an amazing experience and I've learned so much about the dolphins, the fishing industry, and life in Galaxidi. This is a trip I will carry with me forever. I hope to come back some day and see the that the dolphin populations are thriving. Thank you to the entire Tethys team for making my time in Greece so enjoyable.
21 September 2009
Tethys Blog readers and Facebook fans do not like dolphins in captivity.
A total of 51 persons participated in our first poll, which simply asked "Dolphins in captivity?". The poll stayed open for ten days and then closed.
48 persons (94%) said "No, thanks." Two (3%) said "It depends." One (1%) said "Yes, please." Nobody answered "No idea."
Click on the graph to enlarge.
20 September 2009
I didn’t know what to expect when I decided to volunteer for the Dolphin Conservation Program in Galaxidi, but I can truly say the experience has been life changing. I doubt I could have received an education like this anywhere else.
From the start, Stefano and Susie made us feel at home, and from our first dinner together, I felt like I had known them for a long time. We were a small group of three volunteers, Ellie from Belgium, Levanna from Indonesia and myself. Not only did we get along well, but also we were an extremely lucky group!
On our first day, the sea was a little rough and we stayed relatively close to shore. We spotted our first dolphin near a fish farm. It was a beautiful bottlenose dolphin. It was exciting to see a dolphin up close in the wild! However, this was nothing compared to the rest of the week.
The next day, the weather cooperated and we were able to travel much further out. After quite a while on the zodiac, I was getting a little tired, but then out of nowhere, we spotted a fin! Then another fin! Then before you knew it, we were surrounded by 16-20 striped dolphins. We were so lucky because this was only Susie’s second sighting of striped dolphins here on this project, and we saw them on our second day. We monitored their behavior for quite some time and saw them jumping, socialising and percussing. I had no idea what percussive behavior was before this. Truthfully, I knew pretty much nothing about the various dolphin species. I had read some of the technical papers prior to arriving, but didn’t retain much. I find that true learning happens when you experience something first hand, especially when you have so much fun doing it! When we returned to the field office, we learned about cropping photos, photo identification and database creation. I enjoyed contributing by helping out with the cropping.
The next day, we travelled for several hours, and traversed the gulf towards the other side. As hard as we tried, we were not able to spot any dolphins. I was very happy when we stopped off for a coffee in Itea. Did I ever need a coffee that day!! I never thought it would be a workout sitting on a boat, but yes it was.
Then on Thursday, we had the best day! The water was like oil, and we made it a long way out from Galaxidi. Again we had a sighting of striped dolphins! There were even juveniles in this group. Susie asked us to count them, but it was so difficult to get an accurate number because there were so many! We got a beautiful view of them when they were riding the bow of the boat. The water was crystal clear and you could see their sleek bodies shining in the sun. Some of the photos look like they were taken underwater because the surface was so calm. It was great. Later on in the field office, we started the process of photo identification, and it appears that we found some dolphins that were not in the database. Very good news indeed!
Our jubilation that day became muted after watching the documentary ‘The End of the Line’. I had no idea that fish supplies worldwide had become so depleted. I did not know that blue fin tuna and swordfish were endangered. I did not know that at salmon fish farms, approximately 5 kg of fish are required as food for each kg of salmon produced by the farm. I have been eating a lot of fish for health reasons, and because it is one of my favourite foods, but I did not know that my actions were supporting an industry whose practices have become so unsustainable. It never occurred to me that in my lifetime, it is possible that world fish supplies will become depleted and the oceans will be forever changed. What kind of a world would that be? It would be absolutely devastating, and from that moment forward, I decided to reduce my fish consumption and to make every effort to consume fish from sustainable sources.
I have always loved the sea and have been exploring it recreationally through snorkelling and scuba diving. However, my interest in the sea now exceeds far beyond its beauty. This is only the beginning of my education as I will actively seek to learn more about conservation and to spread the word about how we can change the collision course we are on.
I had a blast enjoying everything that Galaxidi has to offer. I went swimming almost every day, enjoyed the taverns by the water, and more than anything else, I really enjoyed the company. Many thanks to my fellow volunteers and to Susie and Stefano. And of course, anyone else who comes here needs to know one thing – Stefano is always right because he is Italian!
19 September 2009
This definitely has been an eye opening experience for me, and is one of the best thing that I’ve experienced in my life. I learnt so much over the course of one week, got to know four of the nicest people (Stefano, Susie, Alyssa and Ellie). I guess that would sum up everything ;) The dolphin sightings were simply magical... I’ve never seen them up close in their natural habitat and they are the most beautiful creatures that I’ve ever seen. On the fourth day, we had the best weather for a sighting, and when Stefano told us that this kind of ‘perfect’ sightings only happened twice this season, I felt that we’ve just won a lottery! I learnt so much, not just about dolphins, but the big picture of the ocean, the overfishing, current state, etc. I will definitely pass on this awareness to as many people that I can, and hopefully can make a small but significant contribution to improve our ocean. Many thanks to Stefano, Susie, Alyssa and Ellie! Terima kasih! Sampai jumpa!
17 September 2009
A case of whales recovering, instead of declining, is so unusual these days that the article below made me smile.
Sperm whales in the Azores seem to be doing weel, and they are recovering from whaling based on recent genetic analyses.
Population genetics and social organization of the sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus) in the Azores inferred by microsatellite analyses
A. M. Pinela, S. Quérouil, S. Magalhães, M. A. Silva, R. Prieto, J. A. Matos, and R. S. Santos
Canadian Journal of Zoology 87(9): 802–813 (2009)
In the northeast Atlantic Ocean, the archipelago of the Azores is frequented by female–offspring groups of sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus L., 1758), as well as large males. The Azores apparently constitute both a feeding ground and a reproduction site. Little is known about the population and group structure of sperm whales in the area. We analysed 151 sloughed skin and biopsy samples collected from 2002 to 2004. Molecular analyses involved genetic tagging using 11 microsatellite loci and molecular sexing. Our objectives were to determine the population genetic structure, compare relatedness within and between social groups, infer kinship, and estimate the age of males at dispersal. Results suggest that individuals visiting the archipelago of the Azores belong to a single population. High genetic diversity and absence of inbreeding suggest that the population is recovering from whaling. Individuals sampled in close association are highly related, as well as those observed in the same area on the same day, suggesting that secondary social groups (i.e., the union of primary social units) are largely but not exclusively composed of relatives. Probable mother–offspring and full-sibling pairs were identified. Age of males at dispersal was estimated at 16.6 years, which was well above previous estimates for this species.
13 September 2009
We came here to see dolphins and do field work with the researchers, but the experience was far more than this. The bottlenose dolphins were extremely amazing when they were *socializing* and playing with jellyfish and with each other... and so was the turtle chasing the jellyfish... all these things just let us think that we have to protect our environment. Thanks for the delicious foods, especially the pizza and the pita, hmmmmmmmm. These 5 days were really short, even if we got up at 6.45, but we want to thank you thank you thank you Susie and Stefano for the work and the experience!
Orsi and Dòri, Hungary
This trip was really cool! On our first day we got to see dolphins and sea turtles! The dolphins were amazing to watch and I really felt good when they were swimming close to the boat! It was also fun riding in the boat even when we weren't with dolphins. I have also enjoyed the Greek experience and will definitely come to Greece again in the future. The early mornings are hard but the rewards are huge and I would like to thank Susie and Stefano for being helpful and friendly. It has been a pleasure to work with them both!
I’d never seen dolphins before in their natural habitat and I can’t quite believe that now I have! Seeing a group of them on the first day was amazing and not only that but seeing two sea turtles as well was brilliant! Thank you so much Stefano and Susie for all the lectures and information you gave us as these really helped me understand exactly why this research is important and it also made me realise what I can do to help as well. I’ve really enjoyed experiencing all of the Greek culture as well, such as the pittas. Swimming in the sea everyday has also been great as I was able to sea all the fish and sea urchins when I went snorkelling. Touching the jellyfish has also been a personal highlight! I hope I’ve been helpful with the data collection and it’s really been a pleasure to work with you!
12 September 2009
Pira is a male bottlenose dolphin who has been seen regularly around the island of Kalamos, Greece, for 15 consecutive years. He has been there since 1993 and is considered one of the most resident dolphins.
In April 2009 we spotted him in the Bay of Itea, Gulf of Corinth, where Tethys has recently started a new reserch project. To get there, Pira had travelled approximately 170 km.
After April, we did not manage to find Pira again despite extensive surveys in the central Gulf of Corinth. We started making jokes such as ‘Maybe Pira came here on holidays and now he is back in Kalamos’. Well... he was! In July and September he was seen again around Kalamos together with his old bottlenose dolphin friends. He had made a 170 km round trip along the Ionian coast of Greece.