On the trail of the dolphin!

We are on the trail of the dolphins in this region of the Mediterranean thanks to the PhD I was enrolled. In fact, I am working as part of the Conservation Biology Research Group of the Department of Biology, University of Malta, under the great supervision of Dr. Adriana Vella, PhD (Cambridge).

I started this cetacean research study in 2005 on part time basis, also considering work already done in the previous years, from 1998. The goal of the research is to study the interactions between coastal fishermen and the different species of cetaceans living in the Gulf of Kavala, Greece.

In fact, the major problem occurring between them is that cetaceans often take fish from the fishermen’s nets, destroying the gears, too. Moreover, it is not so rare that these animals remained entangled in the fishermen nets, while feeding, and find a really tragic death in this way.

This behaviour is due in great part to the fact that, because of over-fishing, these animals have difficulty to find enough fish to catch.

This ongoing scientific research study covers several aspects and involves various tasks some of which include:

• Collecting interviews from local small scale fishermen, which suffer due to very severe damages on their nets, caused by cetaceans.

• Undertaking field observations on by boat in the study area, to see which species are present and where they are distributed during the year, thus allowing for accurate distribution and abundance analyses of cetaceans present in the region.

Stomach content analysis from all the specimens founded dead when stranded in the area, to see if their diet corresponds to small-scale fishery target species.

• Determine, where possible, the cause of death of the stranded animals and evaluate if that is related or due to the fishing activities.

• Undertaking statistical analysis of the fishery activities present in the study area during the last ten to fifteen years to detect any changes in resource availability.

Aris Christidis, a dear friend and cetaceans’ and birds’ specialist and co-operator in Adamas also gives a hand with ongoing work including collection of stomachs and tissues samples for investigation.

Moreover, my husband Pavlos, assists with other research aspects where his knowledge and experience helps.

Of course Dr. Adriana Vella, conservation biologist and cetacean research expert, is of constant guidance and together we have planned and fine tuned every aspect of the research under way. Meetings with her, including those in Greece to discuss such research work is always inspiring and motivating.

From direct observations and stranding data, we can say that cetaceans species are present and abundant in the study area and therefore proves the validity of the research project. Species found to date include: the Bottle-nose dolphin, Common dolphin, Stripped dolphin, Risso’s dolphin, up to the rarest Harbour porpoise.

This research is a valid contribution to future conservation management in the area and thus I am honoured of being able to undertake this work, no matter how many hours and sacrifices it takes!

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