Spotlight on an endangered Mediterranean cetacean population
The dolphin species Delphinus delphis was well distributed throughout the Mediterranean basin and was considered the most abundant cetacean species many years back, thus is referred to the Common Dolphin. However, in the last decade its abundance has been reported to be in steep decline in some Greek and Italian waters with notable numbers remaining in Maltese waters and in the Alboran Sea. For this reason, the 1st International Workshop on the Mediterranean Common Dolphin, focusing on conservation research and networking in the Mediterranean was held in Ischia, Italy, in April 2016.
The 1st International workshop this year, organised by the Biological Conservation Research Foundation (BICREF ngo Malta), Oceanomare Delphis Onlus (ODO ngo Italy) and OceanCare (ngo Switzerland), allowed discussion on necessary updating of the IUCN assessment for Delphinus delphis in this region. Sustained dedicated research by the CBRG-UoM, also assisted by BICREF volunteers, has allowed long-term monitoring of this species showing that it still persists in these waters. However with changing environmental conditions it may move away or disappear, as has been in the case in other parts of the Mediterranean, unless tangible integrated management action is implemented in the near future.
Dr Adriana Vella, Ph.D. (Cambridge), cetacean researcher and leader of the Conservation Biology Research Group from the University of Malta (CBRG-UoM) was invited to contribute to an updated regional assessment of this species. Dr. Vella had already been involved in the co-organisation of the 1st International European Cetacean Society workshop on Common Dolphin Workshop in 2004 held in Sweden. She has also chaired the scientific committee of the 29th European Cetacean Society Conference held in Malta for the 1st time in 2015. An event that brought to Malta cetacean scientists from all around the world to present and discuss scientific results for all cetacean species conservation, from local to global.
Dr Vella has led local field research on dolphins, whales, turtles and various other marine species since 1997 by undertaking both aerial and marine surveys. With a 25nm management conservation zone, newly established marine protected areas and European/Mediterranean Directives, Frameworks and Agreements the status of the various species requiring conservation benefit from independent and scientific research especially with increasing anthropogenic threats. Therefore, this unique Maltese scientific research effort is one of the few found around the Mediterranean to have sustained such demanding research through different seasons of the year in order to obtain a more accurate assessment within the seasonal and inter-annual variations found in the Mediterranean Sea.
Common Dolphins may be considered an important flagship species for the protection of marine life and biodiversity away from our everyday sight. The research by Dr Vella, together with other researchers from around the Mediterranean, was instrumental in promoting the Common Dolphin population as endangered in the Mediterranean in 2003 (IUCN Red List).
Between 18 and 20th May 2016 another important scientific international event, the Mediterranean Gap Analysis for Cetaceans and Turtles has been organised in Nice, France, to which Dr Vella was also invited to contribute and target effective monitoring and conservation of cetacean and turtle species in the whole region. The general outcome from these international scientific events stress the importance of long-term and year-round research for these vulnerable and long-lived marine species. The work by the CBRG-UoM and BICREF are directly targeting this while incorporating various biodiversity studies at various levels.