Safeguarding Dolphins and Whales at Mediterranean level

The University of Malta’s Conservation Biology Research Group (CBRG-UM) in collaboration with the nature conservation ngo BICREF has been undertaking marine conservation research for over 20 years. Among the various collaborative research projects, the one on marine mammals (dolphins and whales, collectively referred to as cetaceans) has assessed the status of these species in Maltese waters and has contributed in collaborative work with other foreign researchers from other universities and ngos aimed at expanding scientific investigations across the whole of the Mediterranean.

The outcome of this collaborative Mediterranean-wide cetacean research assessment has recently been published in Nature’s Journal, Scientific Reports, paving the way to promoting sustained and effective investigative efforts for these vulnerable and elusive species. This work highlights areas of the Mediterranean Sea where cetacean knowledge gaps still need to be filled.

Actual field monitoring, through seasons and years, provides accurate necessary knowledge on cetacean distributions and varying spatio-temporal requirements. Such scientific data additionally may be used to model cetacean environmental requirements and potential distribution where they have not yet been studied. In the absence of real field data, data modelling may be useful in management of marine activities from shore to offshore allowing precautionary measures to safeguard these marine mammals.

Malta has been represented and active in relation to dedicated cetacean research since 1998 when the first scientific field research results were presented at the 1st World Cetacean Conference in Monaco through the field survey work led and sustained to date by Conservation Biologist, Adriana Vella, PhD (Cambridge). This Maltese cetacean project is one of the few in the Mediterranean that has been running year-round and for over 20 years.

While scientific marine and aerial surveys have been ongoing as part of this long-term conservation research work, concurrent sea-user citizen science has also been encouraged. The Armed Forces of Malta, The Maritime Transport Authority, Fishermen, Yachtsmen have all contributed additional information in their own ways. More and more members of the public and visitors to Malta are aware of the presence of dolphins and even whales in these waters. An International conference on this very subject organised by BICREF and the CBRG-UM hailed around 400 scientists from all over the world to Malta in 2015 leading to fruitful exchange of research results and best way forward to achieve effective protection of these marine mammals in the Mediterranean.

The CBRG-UM and BICREF also contribute advancements in scientific knowledge in other important conservation aspects including sustainable fisheries, alien species, biodiversity impoverishment and habitat degradation assessments. These studies apply various high-tech methodologies which are also used in the preparation of university research students, interns and future nature conservation practitioners.

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Link to Nature’s Scientific Reports publication (contributing authors in alphabetical order)