The Mediterranean Sea is quite small if compared to the oceans, and it may seem even more surprising that contains inside a larger protected area than the entire Austrian territory. Between Liguria and Provence, the Pelagos Sanctuary extends south to the northern side of Sardinia, to the east beyond Argentario and to the west up to the Giens peninsula in France. It has a 87.500 square km area and has established to protect first of all its most delicate and representative fauna, that of cetaceans (whales and dolphins), but necessarily also the rest of the ecosystem, from phytoplankton to fishes. This sea area is in fact very particular and is probably the most sensational exception to the Mediterranean that is generally considered a “poor” sea.
The Sanctuary is neither a coastal marine park nor just a stretch of open sea, but contains many different habitats which follow one another from the shore to the depths of over 2500 meters. And that is not all – the Sanctuary has also another more unique than rare peculiarity: it is not solely Italian nor French, but rather the result of three different nations Italy, France and the Principality of Monaco. In fact, it has only been for a few decades that researchers have realised that the Corsican-Ligurian-Provencal basin, that is the north-western part of the Mediterranean, is a naturalistic heritage of enormous value.
In the ‘90s, in fact, a series of surveys carried out by the Tethys Onlus Institute (an organisation dedicated to the study for the cetaceans protection) in the Mediterranean Sea led to the conclusion that in the western Ligurian Sea the frequency of sightings of whales and dolphins was four times higher than that of the adjacent Tyrrhenian Sea. Despite the Sanctuary was created for them, in reality the unusual abundance and variety of species of the Ligurian and Corsican Sea is not only related to cetaceans but all the so-called “food chain” which includes fishes, cephalopods, planktonic crustaceans, and a great variety of organisms inhabiting this environment – an environment that is anything but monotonous and uniform.
The Sanctuary hosts all the regular species of the Mediterranean, which are eight in total: the common whales (the second largest species in the world after the “blue whales”, with 20-24 meters in length), the sperm whales (the largest predators in the world), the goose-beaked whales, the pilot whales, the Risso’s dolphins, the bottlenose dolphins, the striped dolphins and rare common dolphins. In addition to the cetaceans, the Sanctuary waters are also inhabited by turtles, mobulas (the so-called Mediterranean manta rays), sea birds, tunas, swordfishes and basking sharks (the harmless elephant sharks).
You will be amazed to know that the Pelagos Sanctuary is among the best places to go to for whale watching and meeting the majestic whales, the mythical sperm whales or the lively striped dolphins, in an extraordinary and unique setting.
To do so, there are many possibilities ranging from the half-day excursion aboard motorboats to sailing weekends, from the participation to Citizen Science cruises, which the Tethys Institute has been conducting for 31 years in the Sanctuary starting from Portosole, Sanremo. Everybody can join them without any scientific preparation, experiencing the thrill of close encounters with whales and dolphins and assisting the marine biologists during the data collection, thus contributing proactively to their protection which sees the Tethys Institute at the forefront.
For further information about the Citizen Science cruises by Tethys, please visit the website www.baleneedelfini.org