28 October 2008

When swordfish conservation biologists eat swordfish

I wrote a short essay that was accepted as an Editorial in the renown scientific journal Conservation Biology.

This article is now in press and its published version should be out in February 2009. I would like to share it with Blog readers ahead of print.

The essay is meant to be food for thought for people including myself.

Giovanni Bearzi


Bearzi G. In press. When swordfish conservation biologists eat swordfish. Conservation Biology (scheduled February 2009).
(84 Kb)

25 October 2008

New Mediterranean monk seal breeding colony in the Aegean Sea, Greece

An island previously reserved for military use turned out to be a safe heaven for the endangered Mediterranean monk seal. Three out of the eight caves are suitable for pupping and in 2004 ten pups were identified, four in 2005 and seven in 2007.

Being off limits for all but the military, the beaches of this island provided a safe place for mothers and pups to rest, a behavior that has not been observed in this species in the Mediterranean Sea recently.

This newly discovered colony, with relatively high natality compared to other breeding sites in the Mediterranean Sea and the rare use of open beaches, is of outstanding conservation value and is in urgent need of effective protection.

Eleonora De Sabata

Illustration: distribution of Mediterranean monk seal, from Monachus Guardian

For more information:

Dendrinos D., A.A. Karamanlidis, S. Kotomatas, V. Paravas, S. Adamantopoulou. 2008. Report of a new Mediterranean monk seal (Monachus monachus) breeding colony in the Aegean Sea, Greece. Aquatic Mammals 34(3):355-361.

24 October 2008

A dark time for scientists in Italy

The grim situation of research in Italy is raising international interest. An editorial recently published on Nature, one of the top science journals, portrays a scary picture (see link below).


Cut-throat savings
Editorial -- Nature 455, 835-836 (16 October 2008) | doi:10.1038/455835b; Published online 15 October 2008

23 October 2008

Call for the conservation of common dolphins around Kalamos, Greece

Scientific research done by Tethys since 1991 documented ecosystem damage caused by overfishing in the Greek waters east of Lefkada and around the island of Kalamos - a Natura 2000 area.

This resulted in ecosystem collapse and decline of marine megafauna including formerly abundant short-beaked common dolphins.

Local and regional non-governmental organizations have now joined forces to call for urgent fisheries management action that may result in ecosystem recovery, protect biodiversity, preserve fish stocks, and allow for the long-term survival of artisanal fisheries.

To see the Call: http://www.cetaceanalliance.org/call/

Giovanni Bearzi

22 October 2008

An encounter with a dying killer whale calf

Our friend Chris Johnson, while on a vaquita research expedition in Mexico, witnessed and documented an encounter with a lone killer whale calf.

Watch the video at:

18 October 2008

Delphi's Dolphins

In 2009 the Tethys Research Institute will launch a dolphin research and conservation project in the Gulf of Corinth, Greece, in the context of Tethys' long-standing Ionian Dolphin Project.

The Gulf is a semi-closed area inhabited by three cetacean species: bottlenose dolphins, striped dolphins and short-beaked common dolphins.

Surveys at sea with inflatable craft will be conducted between April and September 2009. Detailed information and photo albums can be found online at: http://www.tethys.org/tri_courses/courses_index_e.htm (Select: Ionian Dolphin Project)

Researchers and volunteers will stay in a comfortable field station located in the beautiful village of Galaxidi, a short drive away from the stunning archeological site of Delphi.

Ionian Dolphin Project updated

The web site of Tethys' Ionian Dolphin Project has just been updated and renewed.

It now includes a comprehensive report of some of the work done by Tethys collaborators in the eastern Ionian Sea across 18 years - between July 1991 and September 2008.

Please visit the new site at: Ionian Dolphin Project.

17 October 2008

Bottlenose dolphins in the Mediterranean

Tethys president Giovanni Bearzi, together with colleagues Caterina Maria Fortuna and Randall R. Reeves, have just published a review paper on bottlenose dolphins in the Mediterranean Sea.

Bearzi G., Fortuna C.M., Reeves R.R. 2008. Ecology and conservation of common bottlenose dolphins Tursiops truncatus in the Mediterranean Sea. Mammal Review. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2907.2008.00133.x


Ecology and conservation of common bottlenose dolphins Tursiops truncatus in the Mediterranean Sea

Giovanni Bearzi, Caterina Maria Fortuna and Randall R. Reeves

Copyright © 2008 Mammal Society/Blackwell Publishing


1. Bottlenose dolphins Tursiops truncatus are amongst the best-known cetaceans. In the Mediterranean Sea, however, modern field studies of cetaceans did not start until the late 1980s. Bottlenose dolphins have been studied only in relatively small portions of the basin, and wide areas remain largely unexplored.

2. This paper reviews the ecology, behaviour, interactions with fisheries and conservation status of Mediterranean bottlenose dolphins, and identifies threats likely to have affected them in historical and recent times.

3. Whilst intentional killing was probably the most important cause of mortality until the 1960s, important ongoing threats include incidental mortality in fishing gear and the reduced availability of key prey caused by overfishing and environmental degradation throughout the region. Additional potential or likely threats include the toxic effects of xenobiotic chemicals, epizootic outbreaks, direct disturbance from boating and shipping, noise, and the consequences of climate change.

4. The flexible social organization and opportunistic diet and behaviour of bottlenose dolphins may allow them to withstand at least some of the effects of overfishing and habitat degradation. However, dolphin abundance is thought to have declined considerably in the region and management measures are needed to prevent further decline.

5. Management strategies that could benefit bottlenose dolphins, such as sustainable fishing, curbing marine pollution and protecting biodiversity, are already embedded in legislation and treaties. Compliance with those existing commitments and obligations should be given high priority.

15 October 2008

How to sex a dolphin

Assessing the ratio of males to females in endangered populations is important for conservation work. Sexing a dolphin at sea is tricky, not least because the genital area of the mammal is usually concealed beneath the water. Researchers generally have to rely on time-consuming observations, either inferring a female's sex from its close association with a calf or taking sharp photos of the genital area (and the dorsal fin). The alternative is a biopsy sample, potentially unpleasant for the animal, again combined wih photos allwing for the individual identification of that individual.

Lucy Rowe and Stephen Dawson, marine biologists at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, found an alternative. They recently published a paper reporting how photographs of dorsal fins were used to determine the gender of bottlenose dolphins in a well-studied population in New Zealand's Doubtful Sound. This technique allowed to sex the animals from features measured solely from dorsal fin identification photographs, routinely collected as part of non-invasive population monitoring.

The pair teamed an over-the-counter digital camera with a pair of laser pointers, which project two reference spots precisely 10 cm apart onto the dorsal fin. This procedure allowed an accurate determination of dorsal fin size. The digital photographs were then compared with existing fin and sex records for the population.

Applying this technique, the two researchers found that dorsal fins of males had significantly more scars than female's, probably as a result of aggressive behaviour among males. Fins had a median of 15% scar tissue, whereas in females this was just 3.9%. Conversely, the dorsal fins of females tended to have a greater number of patchy skin lesions, with a median of 12.1% coverage compared with males' 6.8%. Rowe and Dawson then used a statistical analysis of number of fin nicks, fin size and scarring to correctly predict the sex of 93% of 43 dolphins.

This laser technique could potentially be applied to other populations of dolphin or even to other species with slight sexual dimorphism. The authors are currently testing their technique to another population of dolphins in the nearby Dusky Sound, and "initial signs are good".

Annalise Petroselli

Rowe L., Dawson S. 2008. Determining the sex of bottlenose dolphins from Doubtful Sound using dorsal fin photographs. Marine Mammal Science doi: 10.1111/j.1748-7692.2008.00235.x

More information: Nature.com

10 October 2008

Dolphins of Greece, 1-9 October 2008

The Dolphins of Greece is not only an absolute wonderful experience, but it allocates for one a time to reflect upon the environmental conditions we live today. Each day was a new experience. Each day in the Gulf was a new way to look at the life of not only the dolphins but all who interact within this environment. Joan and Mauro were excellent mentors who challenged us to critique all that was observed. I can think of no one else I would rather have to lead this group! The team was great and the interaction was extremely beneficial. This was a big addition to my 11 week trip throughout Europe. Keep up the good works and education to us all!

Dale, Texas


The Dolphins of Greece expedition provided through Earthwatch was an absolutely AWESOME and AMAZING experience!!! Joan and Mauro were wonderful as a Principle Investigator and research assistant. They taught me so much about in-the-field research and the video documentaries were very educational. The accomodations were truly amazing, the food was incredibly delicious, the views was awe-inspiring, and the dolphins were breath-taking. I had such a wonderful time and learned more than I had ever hoped to. I know that I will be able to use this experience to help raise awareness and educate others about all of the important issues that relate to this expedition! Thanks so much!

Amanda, Florida


This was my first Earthwatch trip and it was worth every penny. I appreciated Joan’s sarcasm and forthright communication style. We were very lucky to have two people on our trip who were dolphin trainers and educators from the Sea World environment. Their experience allowed Joan to delve a little deeper into the science and the methodology and we all benefited from this. The food was really tasty throughout the week, the accommodations very nice, and Posi the dog was a highlight. I learned from the videos and lectures as well as from the doing the actual surveys of dolphin behavior. We were fortunate enough to see dolphins each time we went out so we had varied experiences. There were times that it was a little stressful on the boat but seeing the dolphins made it all worthwhile. Mauro was the assistant during our trip and he was really an asset to the group. His sense of humor and intelligence made the excursions fun and interesting. Overall, this was a great trip with great people, a great place to visit, and great animals to study. I can’t wait to share what I learned with everyone back home.

Jana, Colorado


Since this was my first Earthwatch trip, I wasn’t sure what to expect. It was a GREAT trip and I’m definitely interested in taking other Earthwatch trips now. I really enjoyed getting to see the dolphins, learning about the research processes and seeing Greece. Joan’s personality made it enjoyable. His sarcasm and frankness was refreshing and made his occasional grumpiness bearable ☺. The banter between Joan and Mauro was a lot of fun. It was clear to see how much both of them care about dolphins and the environment. It was fun sharing geocaching with the group and I’m glad we finally got Joan to the castle! I learned a lot from the documentaries and I have a lot to teach people back home. Thanks for the great experience.

Suzanne, Colorado


The Dolphins of Greece was my first Earthwatch expedition, and it has exceeded my expectations. I work for Sea World and the Sea World/Busch Gardens Conservation Fund sent me on this expedition, and I am very grateful to have had this opportunity. I work with dolphins on a daily basis and it was such a good learning opportunity to see Joan’s work with the dolphins in the gulf and to be able to observe the animals in their natural habitat. Although I had a base of knowledge about dolphins, Joan and Mauro were exceptional teachers and I learned more than I antcipated. I really enjoyed the emphasis on conservation and I now feel like I have a large amount of knowledge that I can pass on to my fellow co-workers and guests of Sea World. This trip has also strengthened my desire to pursue more education and to work in the field of marine consevation. My fellow volunteers were wonderful and much of our time was spent laughing with each other. The group dynamics with the volunteers, Joan and Mauro were excellent and we all shared a similar sense of humor. The accomadations were great and I really enjoyed the time we spent sight-seeing and eating together. I cannot say enough good things about this trip and feel so fortunate to have been able to participate on this expedition.

Mary, California

07 October 2008

Emptied Oceans

A short video on YouTube, worth watching:

Emptied Oceans

Everybody who spent their childhood near the Mediterranean Sea coast, snorkelling, diving, fishing, or just walking along the coast, can probably tell a similar story.

I myself am shocked by the degree of devastation and loss. Only 30 years ago I have seen a diversity of marine life that does no longer seem to exist, and fish in numbers and sizes that just aren't there anymore.

Giovanni Bearzi

05 October 2008

Kalamos' Last Team, 29 September - 4 October 2008

“4 O’clock Out, Out… 5, no, 6, 7 sighted!” Five pairs of eyes swivel as one over to the right of the boat and peer expectantly over the clear blue water. I can feel the level of the excitement in and around me rise as the details of the sighting become clear. If I don’t see anything except water straightaway I feel so disappointed. Then a few seconds later, the glorious sight of a dorsal fin arcing out from the waters surface and then through the air releases all the tension and I could swear the beautiful dolphins were grinning at me before they glide back out of sight. The sun is behind me warming my back and nature is putting on an acrobatic display for me before my very eyes. I feel so spoilt.

If that wasn’t enough then, as soon as I return to the cottage hidden away in the islands hillside, a feeling of relaxation overwhelms me. Seven year-round residents, a few visiting boats, Stefano and Zsuzsanna form the Tethys team, the other volunteers Marta and Ruth... and me. It is not an island of sights and manicured prettiness, but there is the most amazing peace and quiet. This is not 5-star luxury... the treatment I receive from the Tethys team is far simpler and far better than that. I realise that hospitality should be measured with hearts and not stars. From Susie’s early morning call, to beautiful music and a breakfast of simple food, locally sourced. Coffee if it’s needed, and nothing is too much trouble to ask for. I have never felt at home so quickly anywhere. Including home.

I soon realised that the team look after you better than any waiter, butler or maid, because they treat you (and in turn you treat them) just like a family. There is a complete respect and a feeling of support. The team ethic here is strong too. It needs to be for Tethys to run such a tight, professional operation, but one that opens its doors to complete strangers every week. I am completely absorbed into the research team. I clean and cook with them. I sail, spot dolphins and record the results with them. I work on the results with them and I feel like I am doing good to the world with them. And then, at the end of each day, I eat and relax with them. This is not a holiday for loners, or a place to come to have your entertainment pre-packaged and served up to order. The satisfaction of a job well done and the smiles that I share from the natural fun of a close-knit group are more than enough for me.

It is amazing too to see the people I was laughing with, just the night before, transformed into a highly focussed crew on a boat. Orders are barked because they need to be. Discipline is high, but every rule is in place for a reason. I know when I’ve done something wrong and I soon realise that when they are at work, their business is taken very seriously.

Everything that they and I do is explained clearly and with care, and this brings my visit to Tethys to life even more. Now I understand why the ropes on a boat must be tied just so, why the settings on a camera are important to get the best images for recognition and why accuracy in all activity is paramount. And I also understand a little why the ecology of the sea is changing, and what just a few of the causes and impacts of this might be. And maybe, just maybe, how a few things that I do can change it. There is no preaching here, just simple logic, backed up by fact and research. It is much more powerful than any other message I have ever seen. Nothing is shocking, just well presented by people who love what they do and their passion for their work is infectious.

And then I’m back on the boat. Dolphins are nearby and my heart is racing because I know I must perform my task well to help record their activity. And I understand why the smallest details are important, and it all makes sense. When the work is done for the first sighting I know there will be time to relax and enjoy watching the creatures we’ve recorded play. To take photos, to marvel at their beauty and their personality. And because I now understand just a little more about why they do, what they do and what it means for the world, I feel closer to them than I could ever have imagined and I can smile back at them with all my heart.

Andy, U.K.


The Ionian Dolphin Project is neither a dolphin-watching-program nor a pure holiday. It is much, much more than this – and it is something completely different. I joined as a volunteer primarily because I have been travelling to Greece for some years now and I wanted to see a different side of this country I so fell in love with. I was always aware of the fact that there was more to it than Ouzo and Sirtaki, but this week on the Kalamos island was more than I had thought it would be.

I experienced true international teamwork in the best possible way. I spent more time outside in a week than I usually get in a month. I enjoyed some brilliant home made (Italian!!!) food. I learned a lot about cetaceans in the Greek seas and about the problem of over-fishing. And yes, I did see dolphins in the wild. But the amazing thing is that the days we did not see dolphins were not even the least bit less interesting, fun or informative as the days we actually saw them.

A big fat THANK YOU to the incredible staff, Stefano, Zsuzsanna and Mauro for making it so easy to feel as part of the project. And thumbs up for Marta and Andy, probably the best roommates I ever had.

Ruth, Germany