The Ionian Dolphin Project aims to ensure the conservation of the marine mammal species in greek waters

Common dolphins, bottlenose dolphins and Mediterranean monk seals are studied by means of several research techniques to understand how they interact with their environment

Research by Ionian Dolphin Project primarily concentrates on three species: the common bottlenose dolphin, the common dolphin and the Mediterranean monk seal. These two dolphin species are regularly found in the coastal waters of the eastern Greece, while monk seals are a far less abundant and elusive species.

bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)

Bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus)

The bottlenose dolphin, the cetacean species most frequently found in coastal Mediterranean waters, has been negatively affected in numerous ways by human activities. Until the 1960s, they were one of the main targets of culling campaigns, resulting in thousands of animals killed. In recent times, incidental mortality in fishing gear, prey depletion caused by overfishing, habitat degradation, boat traffic, noise, and health effects caused by pollution are important threats. Mediterranean bottlenose dolphins are currently classified as Vulnerable in IUCN Red List.

Common dolphin (Delphinus delphis)

Short-beaked common dolphins (Delphinus delphis)

Once one of the most abundant cetacean species in the Mediterranean Sea, common dolphins have declined throughout the region since the 1960s. The Ionian Dolphin Project aims to understand, through long-term monitoring, how the local dolphin communities interact with their environment and how human activities – particularly fisheries and pollution – may affect their conservation status. By deploying state-of-the-art techniques, the project contributes tools to 1) inform management action, 2) promote marine conservation in Greece, and 3) support conservation efforts in the wider Mediterranean region.

In 2003 their Mediterranean population was classified as Endangered in the IUCN Red List. The causes of their generalised decline include prey depletion by overfishing and incidental mortality in fishing gear.

Mediterranean monk seal (Monachus monachus)

After having been considered Critically Endangered for almost two decades, the status of Mediterranean monk seals, was downlisted in 2015 to Endangered in IUCN’s Red List, based on the observation that seal concentrations in specific locations within the species’ range (i.e., Madeira, Mauritania and some portions of the Aegean Sea) had been stable in numbers, and even increasing. Monk seals from the Ionian Sea, which recent studies have outlined as being part of a subpopulation genetically distinct from Aegean seals, might still exist in a quite precarious state and might still qualify as Critically Endangered. Information about its numbers, ecology and threats is scarcer than for the Aegean, although pressure from fishing and tourist activities is quite high for Ionian monk seals.

Research methods

  • Surveys to monitor dolphins in the study areas are conducted daily from the IDP’s rigid-hulled inflatable boat equipped with a 100HP outboard engine.

  • Individual photo-identification, used to obtain information on dolphin abundance, movements, habitat use, social organization and reproductive success.

  • Recordings of the group size and behavior of the dolphins during long-lasting observation sessions, which are subsequently analyzed through GIS software.

  • Recordings of other marine species including sea turtles, tuna, swordfish and seabirds observed during the surveys at sea.

  • Inspection of dead dolphins found stranded or adrift in the study area, to identify the causes of death whenever possible, and collection of biological samples for further investigations. Occurrence of dolphin by-catch in fishing gear is also recorded.

  • Assessment of the interactions between dolphins and local fisheries.

Example of the evolution of the dorsal fin of a bottlenose dolphin regularly observed by the IDP team in the Ionian Sea between 2004 and 2010

shapes of dorsal fins of dolphins