Ischia Dolphin Project
Since 1991, for Mediterranean whales and dolphins
Whale-watching and conservation support
Thanks to the participation of enthusiastic people who choose to spend their vacations collaborating to the conservation project, it has been possible to continue our research effort to date
No specific training is required to participate, just a spirit of adaptation and lots of enthusiasm
Sail with us
Jean Gab, our research vessel, sails in the central Tyrrhenian Sea, in the waters of the Campanian and Pontine archipelagos, off the islands of Ischia, Procida, Capri, Ventotene and Ponza.
The study area represents a unique opportunity for the study of cetaceans. Since 1991 the presence of seven different Mediterranean species has been recorded there.
The main objective of the project is to identify key areas for cetaceans, feeding and breeding grounds, and preferred routes used by the animals in the Mediterranean Sea.
The identified areas are submitted to the attention of politicians and stakeholders, suggesting methods for their protection and management.
In addition to research, the project aims at education and outreach, to expand people’s knowledge and awareness of the conservation needs of Mediterranean whales and dolphins.
Embark with us and help researchers with data collection.
We are looking for passionate people who want to be directly involved in the conservation of cetaceans.
Those who participate in our expeditions live an unforgettable experience, meeting the animals in their environment and learning about the threats they are subjected to, such as habitat degradation, dwindling resources, chemical, and noise pollution …
The study area is located in the central Tyrrhenian Sea (Italy) and covers about 8800 square km; it includes the Campanian Archipelago (Gulf of Naples, islands of Ischia, Procida, Capri) and the Pontine Archipelago (Gulf of Gaeta, islands of Ventotene and Ponza) both located on the eastern Tyrrhenian continental margin.
It is characterized by volcanic activity and complex geological structures, including submarine canyons, submerged mountains, erosional channels, and rocky banks.
The waters northwest of Ischia include the submarine canyon of Cuma, known for its variety of pelagic fish, seabirds, and cetaceans. The canyon trench (850 m deep) forms an underwater valley between Ischia and Ventotene.
Southeast of Ischia, in the Gulf of Naples, the shelf is interrupted offshore by two large canyons (Magnaghi and Dohrn), which form the Magnaghi-Dohrn canyon system.
The main goal of the project is to identify key areas for cetaceans.
Other objectives are:
- estimate the degree of residency of cetaceans in the study area;
- study populations size and trend;
research the social structure of the different populations;
- examine habitat use and distribution;
- evaluate the impact of both fishery operations and vessel traffic;
- describe the acoustic repertoire of the different species.
Beyond these merely scientific goals, the Ischia Dolphin Project aims to improve the management of cetacean species by:
- promoting a series of educational activities to spread information and raise awareness among the public about the threats and problems of cetaceans and their environment;
- sharing the results of the research with the local and the international authorities, as well as to the scientific community and the environmentalist organizations;
- the protection and conservation of the area.
Photo-identification is a valuable and widely used technique in the research to obtain important information on population size, distribution and movements of animals, social organization, reproductive rate, and habitat use. Cetaceans are photographed and identified based on natural and permanent features present on the body.
Sperm whale: 96 individuals photo-identified. Of these, 67 (70%) were sighted in one year only and 29 (30%) were recaptured in different years after their initial identification.
Common dolphin: 94 photo-identified individuals. 74 of the identified individuals were recaptured over the years. Of these, 24 dolphins were sighted over a period of two to four years; 19 individuals were sighted over a period of five to seven years; 31 showed a high degree of site fidelity as they were sighted multiple times over a period of eight to eleven years.
Risso’s dolphin: 43 photo-identified individuals.
Bottlenose dolphin: 204 photo-identified individuals including 44 females. 110 individuals (including 33 females) have been re-sighted over the years.
Cetacean detections are also conducted acoustically, listening to the sounds produced by the animals.
The project uses an array of stereo towed hydrophones realized in the CIBRA laboratory (bandwidth 600 Hz – 100 kHz) of the University of Pavia.
The differences in the arrival time of cetacean vocalizations on the two hydrophones allow us to localize the animals using PAMGUARD modules.
The sound reproduction system installed onboard allows all participants to listen to the sounds of the sea in real-time. In the case of sighting the live listening of the vocalizations of dolphins or sperm whales is an exciting experience.
Whistles, clicks and other vocalizations are analyzed to define the acoustic characteristics of different species in the study area.
The study focuses on acoustic communication in animals, the development of protocols for monitoring and census with passive acoustics, and the creation of an archive of Mediterranean cetacean sounds.
Through the collection of behavioural data, we obtain information that will lead to the understanding of cetacean’s activities like feeding habits, social communication and interaction with human activities.
We record different variables (group size and composition, aerial behaviours, social interactions and so on) at regular intervals of three minutes (3-minute sampling method).
To the left is a behavioural sequence of socialization between two striped dolphins.
Thanks to the data collected with your help, in 2008 Oceanomare Delphis succeeded in have included in the Marine Protected Area “Regno di Nettuno” a special protection area dedicated to cetaceans, and in particular to the critical habitat of common dolphin (Delphinus delphis), listed in the Mediterranean as endangered in the IUCN Red List.
In October 2016, during the first IMMA (Important Marine Mammal Area) Workshop for the Mediterranean organized by IUCN Marine Mammal Protected Areas Task Force, Oceanomare Delphis nominated the waters of Ischia and Ventotene and the Pontine and Campanian Archipelagos as Important Marine Mammal Areas (IMMAs), after one year, both areas were recognized as IMMAs.