Whales of the Mederranean Sea - Part 1
"Mediterranean - The Sea in the Middle of the Earth"
12minutes, 30 seconds QuickTime Video
>> Watch a FLASH Video version of "The Sea in the Middle of the Earth"
Whales of the Mediterranean Sea is a five-part documentary series about the scientists exploring the Mediterranean, and the cetaceans that inhabit this ancient sea.
Whales of the Mediterranean Sea ventures into deep seas and coastal waters with a range of international scientists. It examines the ecology of cetaceans, while exploring the causes of increasing pressures on their populations and habitats. The greatest challenge of all is raising awareness, as most people do not even know there are whales in the Mediterranean Sea.
In a region not often associated with wildlife, the Mediterranean Sea is a haven for a range of remarkable cetacean species. Four hundred million people share the precious marine resources of the Mediterranean, yet minimal opportunities exist to encounter cetaceans in the wild. Will increasing pressures cause cetaceans to disappear as we are just getting to know them?
Narrated by Chris Johnson - earthOCEAN
Around 300 million years ago, all land on earth formed a single super-continent, called Pan-Gaea. Over millions of years, the movement of continental plates slowly tore it apart. The Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans gradually formed, along with the seven continents we recognize today. The separation and collision of Europe, Africa and Asia gave birth to a new sea, the Mediterranean Ð 'The Sea in the Middle of the Earth'.
Today, the Mediterranean is a sea with many unique features. It covers only one percent of the total surface of the world's oceans and is almost completely landlocked. It has a natural opening to the Atlantic Ocean at the narrow Strait of Gibraltar, its major source of water replenishment.
Alexandros Frantzis, PhD. - Pelagos Cetacean Research Institute, Greece.
"The recycling rate of the Mediterranean water is very low. The Mediterranean needs at least one or two centuries on average to renew its waters. That means whatever we introduce, like pollutants in this sea, will stay there for centuries."
Despite lacking tides, the Mediterranean is dynamic, driven by wind, currents and upwelling, indicated by chlorophyll levels. Chlorophyll is green pigmentation in microscopic marine plants called phytoplankton. Phytoplankton is the basis of marine food chains and indicates areas of high productivity. Productivity is highest in the Western Mediterranean.
Ana Canadas, PhD. - Marine Ecologist, Alnitak Marine Research and Education Center, Spain.
"[the western mediterranean] is a very productive area, it is a very interesting area. It has a mixture of atlantic and mediterranean characteristics. So, due to the clash of these different water masses, this produces alot of upwellings, alot of productivity."
Six million years ago, the biodiversity of the Mediterranean Sea, underwent and enormous change. Massive earthquakes caused the Strait of Gibraltar to close, transforming the Mediterranean into an inland sea. The water evaporated, leaving a desert and a few saline lakes. Marine life disappeared. After one million years, earthquakes split the land once again, forming the largest waterfall in the history of the Earth, re-opening the Strait.
Along with new water came new life. The North Atlantic is considerably colder and more nutrient-rich than the Mediterranean; as a result, the 'sea in the middle of the earth' gave rise to unique ecosystems, and a rich array of species. Among the new arrivals to the Mediterranean Sea, were whales, dolphins and porpoises.
Today, eight species of cetaceans regularly inhabit the Mediterranean Sea. Two large whales are found here. Fin whales are the second largest animals on the planet. These enormous, streamlined animals are the fastest of all whales, traveling at speeds up to 30 knots.
Simone Panigada, PhD. - Vice President, Tethys Research Institute, Italy.
"The fin whale is the only and the largest mysticete living in the Mediterranean Sea. The population is estimated at about 3,500 individuals in the Western part of the Mediterranean Sea. 900-1000 animals concentrate in the summer months in the Ligurian Sea to feed on krill."
Sperm whales are the largest of the toothed whales. They roam the sea in family groups.
A diversity of smaller cetacean species is also spread across the basin. The common bottlenose dolphin is robust and inquisitive. It is one of the most widespread and best known of cetaceans throughout the world. The short beaked common dolphin is sleek and strikingly colored. Their small torpedo shape is designed for speed and maneuverability. Further offshore, the striped dolphin is exquisitely marked and easily distinguished. Demonstrating their trademark high speed, acrobatic style, they readily approach boats to 'bow ride'. The Risso's dolphin is an illusive animal that roams deep water in small social groups. Its blunt head lacks the beak of most dolphins, and its grey body is etched with white scars made by the teeth of its companions.
The deepest trenches are the realm of the rarely sighted Cuvier's beaked whale. A poorly understood species, it is among the least known group of all cetaceans worldwide. Long-finned pilot whale readily gather in groups to rest around socialize. The Western Mediterranean Sea is the only place in the world where this behavior is regularly observed around boats. Geographic isolation, means most cetacean species in the Mediterranean rarely, if ever, breed with other populations. As a result, they have evolved slight genetic differences, which make them unique. Yet, most people remain unaware of their existence.
Simone Panigada, PhD.
"Education and public awareness is a major, major issue because we have populations of animals, and of cetaceans that live, and are unique to the Mediterranean Sea, and not many people are aware of that." I, being a scientist, I always say that I study whales and people say where do you go, do you go to Alaska, do you go to a fancy part of the world? And I say no, I go to Liguria. Most times they say, why, are there cetaceans in the Ligurian Sea, or the Mediterranean Sea?
In Europe, most people still encounter dolphins in Aquaria. However, there are a few places in the Mediterranean Sea where people can watch cetaceans from boats. In Imperia Italy, the whale watch company BluWest, takes passenger out to the Ligurian Sea sanctuary to watch animals in their natural environment.
Albert Sturlese - Director, BluWest whale watch. Imperia, Italy.
"We started twelve years ago, that was the summer of 1986. After all, our effort in whale watching was to communicate to the bigger public. Now people are more involved in this, and I think it is also because the whale watch is bringing my company, and other companies, bringing people out Ð and someone who has seen whales, knows what it is like."
Scientists, who study cetaceans in the Mediterranean, increasingly offer opportunities for people of all ages to participate in their research. Earthwatch and other eco-volunteer programs, provide access, enabling people to learn about these animals while studying them. It is the hope that this will raise public awareness by providing a connection to the natural world.
Anne Risk - Earthwatch Volunteer, Spanish Dolphins Project, Spain.
"I have always been interested in the environment, I try and do my bit at home. I just heard from friends how there were species in the sea that were being threatened, so I thought I would come along and see for myself. Well, I have been here for about ten days now, and I have just learned so much. The first thing is that there are whales in the Mediterranean, which is absolutely amazing. I have actually, probably been within a few feet of them. It's been a really good experience."
Simone Panigada, PhD.
"So, we need to invest lots of effort and lots of energy in education and public awareness to render people aware that the animals are there, and that they can do a lot to protect them. Also to help us conserve their status, and not threaten them any more than what they are already threatened."
Some of the world's most ancient and significant human civilizations have risen along the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Dolphins in particular, play an important part in the history and culture of the region. Today, this relationship is changing.
The Mediterranean is one of the most densely populated regions in the world. Inhabited by over four hundred million people, and encompassed by twenty-one nations, approximately ten percent of the world's population lives here. Enclosed seas tend to be highly impacted because human activity is so concentrated along the coast.
M. Cristina Fossi, PhD. - Environmental Toxicologist, University of Siena, Italy.
"It is surrounded by some of the most industrialized countries in the world. So it's a kind of concentration of all the chemicals produced by human activity in the last one hundred years."
All cetaceans living in the Mediterranean Sea are subject to numerous pressures that show little sign of moderating, and may be worsening.
M. Cristina Fossi, PhD.
"So, the dolphins, particularly striped dolphin, bottlenose dolphin, common dolphin in the Mediterranean Sea, are ten times more contaminated than the same species in the Atlantic."
In addition to adverse health effects caused by invisible chemical pollution, cetaceans are regularly caught in fishing nets, their prey is being depleted by overfishing and illegal fishing activities, they are disturbed by excessive noise pollution, and are being hit by ships. Overall, their habitat is being severely degraded, while most people don't even know, that there are whales in the Mediterranean Sea.
Erich Hoyt - Author & Senior Research Fellow. Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society. UK.
"I think we need to have scientists working more with local groups and communities, but we also need to get the media involved. People right now, they don't necessarily associate whales and dolphins with the Mediterranean - they should, and that story that needs to be told."
Map - The Mediterranean Sea
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