It’s not an easy task to study a marine animal that lives offshore and that can dive hundreds of metres for its lunch but thats what Save The Med’s scientific team has started doing around the Balearic Islands, and you can join them if you want!
During 7-9 day long expeditions taking place between May and September on board the historic ship Toftevaag, volunteers participate in the search for marine wildlife and help the scientists gather valuable data on many species, including dolphins, whales and sea turtles. Starting last year, one particular species of dolphin has been received special focus: the Risso’s dolphin, Grampus griseus.
This dolphin’s life is quite literally a mystery. Scientists know so little about them that they can’t determine whether they need special protection measures or not. In the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species they are classified as “Data Deficient”, meaning that more information is needed. For example how many of them exist here, where they live and migrate, what their main threats are and if their population is increasing or decreasing.
These questions need answers. However, obtaining the answers requires patience and hard, ongoing work. To obtain some of them, our team is currently developing what is called a “photo identification catalogue.”
By taking photographs of the animals the team can keep a record of the different individual dolphins as they all have unique patterns on their fins and across their bodies. They have different nicks, notches and scars which they gain over time and are unique to each individual. A bit like our own scars and fingerprints in a sense! By comparing the these marks when looking at the photographs, scientists can recognise the same individuals every time they encounter them.
Cetacean scientist Alexander Sánchez Jones and wildlife photographer Anna Suter have identified over 100 different Risso’s dolphins in the Balearic Sea and have seen some individuals over and over again. These re-sightings indicate that they are likely to live around the Balearics permanently or re-visit often.
Monitoring the Risso’s dolphin helps us understand the marine ecosystems and enables us to contribute valuable information for the management of areas where these species live and travel. The more and better information we have, the better we will understand what type of protection the different species require and be equipped to design efficient Marine Protected Areas and Action Plans for their conservation.
The research results also help raise awareness about the marine world once the team is back on shore. By sharing stories about the individual dolphins and inviting school children to help name the frequently sighted ones - our neighbours indeed - the students kind of get to know these animals and understand that just like us, they are intelligent and social creatures with unique characteristics who love to travel and play with their dolphin family and friends. At the same time, the general public can engage in the project, for example in case they accidentally spot a Risso’s dolphin when they are at sea. By taking photographs of the dorsal fin and sending us the date and location of the sighting along with their photographs they will be able to become citizen scientists and help us increase our database. This contribution could be very important and speed up the process of answering the vital questions that we have!
We are sure that together - with the help of scientists, stakeholders, project funders, volunteers, governmental bodies and the public - we will be able to unveil some aspects of the mysterious life of Risso’s dolphins and contribute to the preservation of the incredible fauna that lives just beyond the Balearic’s shoreline!
When at sea, do NOT actively approach or chase marine animals! If you happen to see an animal, reduce the speed and keep a safe and respectful distance. Stay informed and follow international and local rules and regulations for cetacean watching. If you see an animal and take photos, please email them to firstname.lastname@example.org, but do not actively search for or approach animals for the sake of Photo Identification purposes.