Greece’s seas are home to a multitude of wonderful secrets. Cetaceans, these magnificent creatures, are perhaps one of our seas’ greatest wonders and mysteries. Small communities, awesome predators, bashful divers, caring mothers, solitary males. All of these coexist in the Mediterranean depths, which maintain the delicate balance in the sea and in our environment.
If one thing links all cetaceans, it is sound. Their survival literally depends on it. Fin whales, dolphins, sperm whales, porpoises and beaked whales have an echolocation system, like sonar, that they use to find food, navigate and communicate with one another. Thanks to this, animals like the sperm whale, which dive up to 1,500 m below the surface, can ‘see’ in total darkness.
This wonderful marine world is under threat. If its balance is lost, the whole sea – and us along with it – is at risk. After all, what would Greece be without a healthy and azure sea. Over 80% of the fish stocks in the Mediterranean is overfished, making it difficult for these charismatic creatures to find food. They are a frequently in fishing gear, and either dying entangled or they are directly killed. At the same time, they are threatened by shipping, seismic survey activities aimed at locating hydrocarbons, and military exercises employing sonar.
The name cetacean comes from the ancient Greek work ketos (κῆτος), which means large marine creature. Eight species of cetaceans have a permanent presence in the Greek waters, acting as sentinels for the health of our seas.
A fin whale’s heart is the size of a small car.
Each dolphin has its own signature sound.
Cetaceans, as higher predators and animals that live for many years, bioaccumulate chemical pollution in their bodies from the whole food web.
Equipped with our knowledge, scientific evidence and the support of experts from Greece and around the world, we have a steady presence in the sea and intervene on the political level, proposing solutions for the effective protection of these charismatic species. In 2018, we participated, along with researchers from throughout the Mediterranean, in aerial and ship-based research surveys on cetaceans and other marine megafauna, recording species’ presence and distribution, as well as human activities, in Greek seas. Which species swim in which areas? At what locations are there problems such as large quantities of plastic pollution and nets?
Through this research, we gained a clearer picture of Greece’s seas, and mainly from the Hellenic Trench, the arch extending from the Ionian to Rhodes, and on which we have decided to focus our efforts. Thus, at the 5th International Conference on Marine Mammal Protected Areas – which we co-hosted in Messinia in 2019 – we globally promoted the Hellenic Trench’s importance and the major threats it is currently facing.
Today, we provide a steady flow of scientific data on the species living in the Hellenic Trench, prioritising their protection in our fight to halt the plans for hydrocarbon extraction . With regard to the risks caused by shipping, year by year we have managed to build synergies with international organizations, research centres and representatives of the shipping sector. We have focused our efforts on the development and establishment of the necessary mitigation measures, with the ultimate goal of reducing collisions between vessels and species such as sperm whales.
How many of us know what to do when we see a cetacean at sea or on the coast?
But we are also focused on responding to the threats related to fishing activities, working to assess the magnitude of these threats and propose tangible and realistic measures to reduce them.
Finally, on the level of policy interventions, we submit science-based proposals to the Greek state so that it can take horizontal management measures to ensure the protection of these species through effective marine protected areas and regulate human activities outside these areas.
By keeping these majestic creatures alive, we are keeping our seas alive! But to do this, we need your support.