Tuscany Dolphin Project - The Research




Europe's largest marine park, the National Park of the Tuscan Archipelago, comprises a complex set of marine ecosystems of great ecological and scientific importance. The archipelago also represents an area of high interest for cytologists and for this reason it has been included in the "International Sanctuary of Cetaceans". In fact, of the 11 species that are populating Italian waters, as many as 9 are present in the waters of the archipelago.

The Pelagos Cooperative, with its marine biologists, acknowledging the enormous importance of the area for cetofauna and given the lack information on the populations present, began in 2005 a series of monitoring campaigns and the study of cetacean population in Tuscan Archipelago. 


BiomarT Project (2005-2007) . 

BiomarT Project (2005-2007) The project, sponsored and led by the Zoological Museum "The Observatory" in Florence, had as objective the evaluation of cetacean species present in the Tuscan seas, contained within the wider monitoring of marine biodiversity in the Tuscan region. The product of this activity was the report: BioMart: biotic and environmental determinants for biodiversity:

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Distribution of cetaceans' sightings made in 2005, 2006 and 2007

 The project reached the following results:

• 34 sightings of bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)

• 12 sightings of dolphin (Stenella coeruleoalba)

• 2 sightings of fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus)

• 25 foto identificated individuals of bottlenose dolphin


Balemare Project (from 2006 to present)

The project, promoted and realized by Pelagos, has as objective the evaluation of the cetacean populations present in the Tuscan archipelago and also the popularization of science and environmental awareness through social initiatives promoted by the Livorno’s Mediterraneo Association.


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Distribution of sightings of bottlenose dolphins 2005-2011 

During the project were achieved the following results:

69 sightings of bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)

172 animals foto identificated. The project has enabled the creation of a photo identification catalog and an initial evaluation of the estimated size of the population of bottlenose dolphins.

Gionha Project  (2010-2012)


The project was born to promote the protection and enhancement of the marine resources and particularly the valuable natural wildlife habitats present in the marine area of the upper Tyrrhenian sea, also known as the "Pelagos Sanctuary". The Pelagos were commissioned to manage and coordinate the scientific activities, concerning the monitoring of cetacean species and to investigate the anthropogenic impacts on coastal marine habitats. Pelagos involved, Oceanomare Delphis and the Museum of Natural History "The Observatory” of the University of Florence, as research subjects and collaborators.

The project aimed to deepen and enhance existing knowledge through evaluation of:

1. status and trends of cetacean populations in Tuscany water;

2. impact of anthropic activities (commercial fishing and commercial shipping and / or sports) on the populations under study;

3. the habitat status, particularly regarding the integrity of the seabed and the presence of anthropic waste. The product of this activity was the report: Monitoring of cetacean populations at sea in Tuscany.


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Distribution of sightings made during the period from February to December 2011 (bottlenose dolphin in yellow, striped dolphin in red, fin whales in light blue, Caretta caretta in green, gray shark species in pink Mobula mobular).

This study revealed the following sightings:

35 sightings of bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)

12 sightings of dolphin (Stenella coeruleoalba)

3 sightings of fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus).

We identified 200 individuals of bottlenose dolphin, of which, 149 were spotted once, 51 from 2 to 4 times and 39  of these were females.
It was made an estimated population of bottlenose dolphins of 348 individuals.



Tuscany Dolphin Project (2013 to present)

In 2012, at the end of the GIONHA project, Pelagos and ODO felt the need to continue the collection of data and information on cetaceans present in the Tuscan area, being aware that, to properly manage the cetofauna, it is required project of study extended over the years , The project really allows to fully understand the population composition and dynamics. The aim of the project is therefore the conservation of cetacean species and their environment through knowledge and management. Tuscany Dolphin Project is focused on the cetacean communities in the stretch of sea between the Corsica island, the Tuscan archipelago and the coastal area of Tuscany, which covers approximately 8800 km2.


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Area di studio

 Specie bersaglio dello studio sono:
 balenottera comune (Balaenoptera physalus ),
 capodoglio (Physeter macrocephalus),
 zifio (Ziphius cavirostris),
 grampo (Grampus griseus),
 globicefalo (Globicephala melas),
 stenella striata (Stenella coeruleoalba),
 delfino comune (Delphinus delphis)
tursiope (Tursiops truncatus);



The  TDP project through the cetaceans monitoring campaigns, co-operating with eco-volunteers, has the following objectives:

1) evaluate the degree of cetaceans residency in the basin of the Tyrrhenian Sea and particularly within the Tuscan Archipelago waters;

2) estimate population sizes;

3) examine the different populations social structure;

4) examine the habitat use and distribution;

5) estimate the impact of both fishery operations and nautical tourism;

Data is collected following an interdisciplinary approach applying different methods to describe the different aspects of cetacean’s life. During the
monitoring campaigns are employed the techniques of photo-identification, behavioral sampling, GIS and the acoustical recording.


The mark recapture technique is widely used in the research of cetaceans. This consists in photographing the animals and later identify the individual, taking into account different morphological characteristics, such as shape, color, scratches, nicks, scars and other distinctive natural and permanent marks on their body. This technique provides information on population size, distribution and movements of cetaceans, social structure, reproductive rate and habitat use.


With this technique are collected behavioral data, such as the composition of the group, aerial behaviors, social interactions and so on, in order to obtain basic information that will lead to the understanding of cetacean’s activities like feeding habits, social communication and interaction with human activities.

GIS - Geospatial analysis reflects the integration of more general spatial analysis with the latest generation of Geographic Information Systems (GIS). In conceptual terms geospatial analysis identifies a number of techniques that can be applied to geo-referenced data located on the surface of the earth and relatable to all activities conducted on it. The objective of this section of the project is to apply these techniques to integrate different types of data (behavioral, individual identification, etc.) collected during the survey in the sea, so that they can be used in ecological studies for the Design of Models predictors.


Pelagos with Oceanomare Delphis and Opificio  in order to ensure over the years the continuity of data collection makes use of an ecotourism project thanks to which young volunteers are involved in the study cruises in order to track, photo identify and census the population of whales that live permanently the stretch of sea between the island of Elba, Capraia and Corsica. This project was born from the combination of scientific objectives with those of dissemination and awareness raising, all of which are essential for the whales and dolphins protection in our seas.


The Pelagos Cetacean Observatory is part of the Tuscany Region and collaborates, through its members, with the Center for Cetacean Studies (CSC) and the Academy of Siena Fisiocritici for action on cetaceans in distress and for recovery, for purposes study, of those beached and dead. Pelagos also collaborates with Oceanomare Delphis and the museum of zoology "The Observatory" in Florence in several study projects.