Dolphins have played an important role in Greek culture since ancient times: they have been celebrated in works of art, linked with the gods, and studied by Aristotle. According to some accounts, dolphins were held in such high regard that killing them was equivalent to killing a person and the crime was therefore punishable by death. Unfortunately, over the last 100 years, dolphin populations have declined dramatically, due to overfishing and the consequent depletion of fish-stocks, deliberate killing, fishing-gear entanglement and consumption and suffocation from marine debris, underwater noise pollution, collision with large vessels etc.
Dolphins belong along with whales, beaked whales and porpoises to the taxonomical order Cetacea. Currently, there are four species of dolphins living permanently in the Mediterranean; the bottlenose dolphin, the short-beaked common dolphin, the striped dolphin and the Risso’s dolphin. Due to their declining populations they have been included in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, while various international and regional agreements, European and national legislations aim towards the protection of these species. In-depth knowledge and understanding of the population status and trends, the behavior, social organization and ecology of dolphin species are key elements, in order to design and implement solid and integrated conservation measures.
In Greece, although there has been some progress in the past fifteen years regarding our understanding of the status of dolphin populations, we still have important gaps to fill in order to design and implement efficient and targeted conservation actions for dolphins. MOm’s Northern Aegean Dolphin Project is an effort to learn more about the dolphin populations in the wider area of the National Marine Park of Alonnisos, Northern Sporades (NMPANS), Greece. Despite the fact that the NMPANS is an officially designated Marine Protected Area, no systematic research has been carried out so far to study the biology and ecology of the resident dolphin populations.
People interested in supporting the project join MOm’s research team and are actively involved in daily field surveys at sea and in collecting and processing important biological data. Participation does not necessarily mean being an expert in marine mammal biology or research technique protocols; throughout the project, MOm’s researchers guide the team through and explain the procedures. Additionally, in the evenings, educational seminars are being held by MOm’s expert staff, which are intended to provide valuable insights and understanding regarding marine mammals, monitoring techniques and the local marine environment.