Surrounded by majestic blue waters, Greece is home to 14 of the most rare marine mammals in the world, five of which are migratory species, and nine of which have found a permanent home in the Greek seas.
Often depicted in ancient artwork like that of the famous Minoan civilization, the Greek Striped Dolphin, (Stenella coeruleoalba), also known as “zonodelfino,” got its name from the signature dark blue stripes it wears on its side. Inhabiting the waters of the Corinthian Gulf, this rare creature is a cheerful sight to see. Greek waters are also home to the short-beaked Risso’s Dolphin, (Grampus griseus), as well as the Bottlenose Dolphin, (Tursiops gervais), the most common dolphin worldwide, and a yellow-striped dolphin known as the “common dolphin,” also depicted in ancient art.
The dolphins of Greece display several unique subpopulations and behavioral patterns. Of particular interest is the behavior of dolphins around the Corinthian Isthmus, which connects the Peloponnese to the rest of mainland Greece. These specific dolphin populations are genetically isolated and tend to live separately from other traveling groups in Greece. However, researchers have there observed the rare phenomenon of larger dolphin groups coexisting in harmony. “This phenomenon has not been recorded in other parts of the world,” says Valia Savvidou, manager of Thalassa Project, an EU-funded marine awareness initiative. Dolphins usually live in groups of similar species and don’t mingle with others, but researchers have not yet determined why this behavior, a natural wonder, occurs in the Gulf of Corinth.
This is yet another reason for Greece to invest in protecting these docile creatures. Unfortunately, as a result of environmental conditions and anthropogenic threats including overfishing, the population of dolphins in Greece has declined dramatically over the years. According to a study by Cetacean Alliance, a marine preservation group, the dolphin population of the eastern Ionian Sea fell by 90 percent, from 150 individual sightings in 1996, to only 15 in 2010. A subpopulation of common dolphins in the Amvrakikos Gulf in western Greece is threatened by extinction.
With several series of direct killings or accidental deaths yearly, seven of the 14 marine species in Greece are now vulnerable or endangered. One goal of the Thalassa Project, launched in 2010, is to educate the public about the preservation of Greece’s marine mammals. Organizations conducting research and promoting the preservation of Greece’s precious sea mammals include: MOm (mom.gr), the Pelagos Cetacean Research Institute (pelagosinstitute.gr), and Thalassa Project (thalassa-project.gr).
*Photos courtesy of Thalassa Project | Andrey Nekrasov | A. Frantzis | Pelagos Cetacean Research Institute.