The Inner Ionian Sea Archipelago, where the IDP started in 1991, is just a few kilometres south of the Gulf. Tethys initially envisaged the project as a long-term investigation on the ecology and behaviour of common dolphins in a central Mediterranean hotspot but instead it became a documentation of their sharp decline.
Common dolphins in this area declined dramatically from approximately 150 to 15 animals between 1995 and 2007. Since then, a few sightings have been reported in the adjacent waters. Monitoring done in subsequent years (2008- 2015) together with numerous reports of opportunistic sightings provided by sailors/boaters collaborating with the IDP showed that a few dolphins are still present and they likely roam across a much wider area, occasionally moving into their former wonderland. Decline of common dolphins in this area has been convincingly linked to overfishing, while impact resulting from an ever-increasing nautical tourism should not be ruled out.
Bottlenose dolphins are found in relatively small numbers, but they seem to have stable trends. Of about 120 individuals that we have photoidentified in this area, about one quarter have shown high levels of site fidelity, while the others are transients. Groups of striped dolphins occasionally enter these waters.
The Inner Ionian Sea Archipelago is one of the few Mediterranean areas where monk seals can still be predictably encountered, and it is clearly part of the species’ core habitat. We have gathered strong evidence that some distinctive areas provide key monk seal breeding habitat, having Mediterranean importance. Action to maintain and secure monk seal presence in important monk seal locations such as the Ionian Islands, surrounding islets and seas is urgent.