28 March 2010

CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (in the Pliocene)

Four million years ago a Pliocene dolphin Astadelphis gastaldii died. Its skeleton was recovered, then stored in an Italian museum where it lied unstudied for more than a century... until some researchers decided to have a deep look at it. The result was amazing.

Carved into the old dolphin bones, researcher Giovanni Bianucci and his colleagues from the University of Pisa, Italy, found visible shark bite marks. By carefully studying the morphology and disposition of the tooth marks, the authors managed to attribute the bites to the predation of a single shark, most likely a Cosmopolitodus hastalis.

Then Bianucci and colleagues reconstructed what probably happened during the attack:

"… the shark attached from below, biting into the abdomen. Caught in the powerful bite, the dolphin would have struggled, and the shark probably detached a big amount of flesh by shaking its body from side to side. The bite would have caused severe damage and intense blood loss, because of the dense network of nerves, blood vessels and vital organs in this area. Then, already dead or in a state of shock, the dolphin rolled onto its back, and the shark bit again, close to the fleshy dorsal fin".
This study reveals how much can be inferred from skeletal remains, and offers a glimpse on ancient animal behaviour.

Silvia Bonizzoni

Drawing: Attack sequence as hypothesized by Bianucci et al.
A) the shark approached the prey; B) the shark bitted the abdomen of the dolphin; C) the dolphin, mortally injured, rolled to the left and the shark bitted adjacent to dorsal fin area.

For more information:

Bianucci G., Sorce B., Storai T., Landini W. 2010. Killing in the Pliocene: shark attack on a dolphin from Italy. Palaeontology 53(2):457–470.
Abstract - Shark bite marks, including striae, sulci and abrasions, in a well-preserved fossil dolphin skeleton referred to Astadelphis gastaldii (Cetacea, Delphinidae) from Pliocene sediments of Piedmont (northern Italy), are described in detail. The exceptional combination of a fossil dolphin having a significant part of the skeleton preserved and a large number of bite marks on the bones represents one of the few detailed documentations of shark attack in the past. Most bite marks have been referred to a shark about 4 m long with unserrated teeth, belonging to Cosmopolitodus hastalis, on the basis of their shape and their general disposition on the dolphin skeleton. According to our hypothesis, the shark attacked the dolphin with an initial mortal bite to the abdomen from the rear and right, in a similar way as observed for the living white shark when attacking pinnipeds. A second, less strong, bite was given on the dorsal area when the dolphin, mortally injured, probably rolled to the left. The shark probably released the prey, dead or dying, and other sharks or fishes probably scavenged the torn body of the dolphin.

27 March 2010

ECS Conference 2010: the contribution of Tethys

A number of Tethys collaborators participated in the ECS Conference, and four contributions were presented.

The ECS Chair and Vice-President of Tethys, Simone Panigada, opened the Conference with a talk on the results of the aerial surveys conducted in winter and summer 2009 in the Pelagos Sanctuary, funded by the Italian Ministry of the Environment.

Tethys researchers Enrico Pirotta, Elisa Remonato and Alessia Scuderi presented posters entitled, respectively: 1) Distribution and ecology of Risso's dolphin in the western Ligurian Sea in relation to physiographic, oceanographic and intrinsic parameters; 2) Ship strikes with cetaceans in the Mediterranean Sea: assessment, public awareness and mitigation measures; and 3) Identification of fin whale feeding areas in the western Ligurian Sea.

Elisa Remonato

Photo: The Tethys contingent in Stralsund.

26 March 2010

European Cetacean Society Conference 2010

The 24th annual Conference of the European Cetacean Society has just ended. It was held in the UNESCO world heritage city of Stralsund, Germany, which had already hosted a ECS Conference in 1997.

This last venue was extremely successful, being attended by 450 people from 34 Countries. In total, 43 talks were given and 188 posters presented.

The Conference theme was "Marine Mammal Populations: challenges for conservation in the next decade" and invited speakers included Bernd Würsig (talking about "Endangered cetacean population worldwide"), Christina Lockyer ("Conservation and management of marine mammals: are they compatible issues at regional and global ecosystem levels?"), and Alexander Proelß ("Protection of cetaceans under national and European law: impact of the habitats directive in the common fisheries policy"). During his speech, Prof. Würsig publicly thanked the President of Tethys Giovanni Bearzi for his help in the preparation of the talk and, most importantly, for his contributions to cetacean research and conservation.

The Conference was preceded by two days of workshops:

- Cetacean by-catch: effectiveness of current mitigation measures and possible improvements in the future;

- C-PODs;

- Marine mammal morphology;

- Static acoustic monitoring of the Baltic Sea harbour porpoise;

- Fixed transect surveys for cetaceans on ferries and other research platforms: best practice and collaboration on research and policy applications;

- GIS Student Workshop;

- Pile driving in offshore wind-farms: effects on harbour porpoise, mitigation measures and standards;

- White-beaked and white-sided dolphins: two North Atlantic species in their environment.

The workshops, the Conference, the video night and the closing night took place at the German Oceanographic Museum, the Theatre of Stralsund, the old brewery and the Ozeaneum.

During the video night, one of the most moving documents was presented by Sandro Mazzariol, University of Padua, on the recent mass stranding of 7 sperm whales in the Gargano Peninsula of Italy.

As always, the dinner and dance were popular events which were held in the magnificent hall of the Ozeaneum, where life-size reconstructions of a blue whale, a sperm whale, two humpback whales and a killer whale can be admired.

The next ECS Conference will be held in Cadiz (Spain) in 2011.

Elisa Remonato

21 March 2010

European Cetacean Society 24th Conference

Those who could not attend the 24th Annual Conference of the European Cetacean Society, now taking place in Stralsund, Germany, may enjoy reading the abstract book and get a feeling of ongoing cetacean research:

Download Abstract Book as pdf document
(7.4 Mb)

ECS Conference web site

14 March 2010

Bernd and Melany Würsig in Galaxidi

In these days Bernd and Melany Würsig are visiting the field station of Tethys in Galaxidi (Gulf of Corinth, Greece), spending a few days with researchers Silvia Bonizzoni and Giovanni Bearzi.

Bernd and Mel are good friends, long-time advisors and a bright example of commitment to cetacean science and conservation. They have done incredible work, and managed all that with much generosity, never taking themselves too seriously and always willing to share the fun.


Bernd Würsig is regents professor at Texas A&M University, and chair of the Marine Biology Graduate Program. Melany Würsig is curriculum instruction specialist at Cloverleaf Elementary School in Houston, Texas. Bernd has been senior advisor to 65 graduate students since 1981, and authored or co-authored approximately 150 research papers and six books, including the second edition of the Encyclopedia of Marine Mammals (2009, with Bill Perrin and Hans Thewissen). Bernd and Melany co-authored The Hawaiian Spinner Dolphin (1994, with Ken Norris and Randy Wells) and The Dusky Dolphin: Master Acrobat off Different Shores (2010).

13 March 2010

Aiuta la Fondazione Cetacea

Riceviamo e diffondiamo l'appello dell'amico Marco Affronte:

Fondazione Cetacea non deve morire

Firma la petizione:


12 March 2010

Fishing bans do work

Many are against fishing bans, or think that are useless. A study proved this kind of regulation works.

Australian researchers showed that strict fishing prohibition has helped to regenerate wildlife and coral on one-third of Australia's Great Barrier Reef. Laurence McCook, the lead author of the study, commented "The results are actually quite impressive. Having a higher proportion of protected areas is good for marine life, it's good for fish and it's good for people who rely on the reef for a living".

McCook and colleagues demonstrated no-take zones have less damaged coral, more and bigger fish (including sharks) in both reef and non-reef habitats, with benefits for fisheries as well as biodiversity conservation.


Photo: the Australian Great Barrier Reef

For more information:

The article:
L.J. McCook, T. Ayling, M. Cappo, J.H. Choat, R.D. Evans, D.M. De Freitas, M. Heupel, T.P. Hughes, G.P. Jones, B. Mapstone, H. Marsh, M. Mills, F.J. Molloy, C.R. Pitcher, R.L. Pressey, G.R. Russ, S. Sutton, H. Sweatman, R. Tobin, D.R. Wachenfeld, D.H. Williamson. 2010. Adaptive management of the Great Barrier Reef: a globally significant demonstration of the benefits of networks of marine reserves. PNAS doi: 10.1073/pnas.0909335107

Abstract - The Great Barrier Reef (GBR) provides a globally significant demonstration of the effectiveness of large-scale networks of marine reserves in contributing to integrated, adaptive management. Comprehensive review of available evidence shows major, rapid benefits of no-take areas for targeted fish and sharks, in both reef and nonreef habitats, with potential benefits for fisheries as well as biodiversity conservation. Large, mobile species like sharks benefit less than smaller, site-attached fish. Critically, reserves also appear to benefit overall ecosystem health and resilience: outbreaks of coral-eating, crown-of-thorns starfish appear less frequent on no-take reefs, which consequently have higher abundance of coral, the very foundation of reef ecosystems. Effective marine reserves require regular review of compliance: fish abundances in no-entry zones suggest that even no-take zones may be significantly depleted due to poaching. Spatial analyses comparing zoning with seabed biodiversity or dugong distributions illustrate significant benefits from application of best-practice conservation principles in data-poor situations. Increases in the marine reserve network in 2004 affected fishers, but preliminary economic analysis suggests considerable net benefits, in terms of protecting environmental and tourism values. Relative to the revenue generated by reef tourism, current expenditure on protection is minor. Recent implementation of an Outlook Report provides regular, formal review of environmental condition and management and links to policy responses, key aspects of adaptive management. Given the major threat posed by climate change, the expanded network of marine reserves provides a critical and cost-effective contribution to enhancing the resilience of the Great Barrier Reef.

11 March 2010

Extinct and quickly forgotten

Many species became extinct because of us, but our impact on Planet Earth continues to be forgotten as we lose track of environment changes.

This is the conclusion of a recent study led by Dr. Samuel Turvey.

In 2006, Turvey participated in a Yangtze River expedition to asses the baiji (Lipotes vexillifer) population. The species was later declared ‘extinct’. Turvey returned in 2008 to interview locals about their knowledge of the baiji. The result was quite depressing: memories of this tremendous loss are quickly fading away.

Younger informants were less likely to know what a baiji was. While older people were aware of the historical decline of the baiji, younger fishermen from the same communities not only had never seen this animal, but had never even heard of it.

Soon, people will forget about the former existence of this cetacean species - once common in their environment. Progressively degraded environmental conditions and low biodiversity will come to be seen as normal.

"These shifts in community perception typically mean that the true level of human impact on the environment is underestimated, or even not appreciated at all, since the original environmental baseline has been forgotten” - Turvey commented.

Silvia Bonizzoni

Drawing by Giovanni Bearzi

The article:
S.T. Turvey, L.A. Barrett, H. Yujiang, Z. Lei, Z. Xinqiao, W. Xianyan, H. Yadong, Z. Kaiya, T. Hart, W. Ding. 2010. Rapidly shifting baselines in Yangtze fishing communities and local memory of extinct species. Conservation Biology. doi: 10.1111/j.1523-1739.2009.01395.x

Abstract - Local ecological knowledge can provide a unique source of data for conservation, especially in efforts to investigate the status of rare or possibly extinct species, but it is unlikely to remain constant over time. Loss of perspective about past ecological conditions caused by lack of communication between generations may create "shifting baseline syndrome," in which younger generations are less aware of local species diversity or abundance in the recent past. This phenomenon has been widely discussed, but has rarely been examined quantitatively. We present new evidence of shifting baselines in local perception of regional species declines and on the duration of "community memory" of extinct species on the basis of extensive interviews with fishers in communities across the middle-lower Yangtze basin. Many Yangtze species have experienced major declines in recent decades, and the Yangtze River dolphin or baiji (Lipotes vexillifer) and Yangtze paddlefish (Psephurus gladius) may have become extinct during the 21st century. Although informants across all age classes were strongly aware of the Yangtze ecosystem's escalating resource depletion and environmental degradation, older informants were more likely to recognize declines in two commercially important fish species, Reeves' shad (Tenualosa reevesii) and Yangtze pufferfish (Takifugu fasciatus), and to have encountered baiji and paddlefish in the past. Age was also a strong predictor of whether informants had even heard of baiji or paddlefish, with younger informants being substantially less likely to recognize either species. A marked decrease in local knowledge about the Yangtze freshwater megafauna matched the time of major population declines of these species from the 1970s onwards, and paddlefish were already unknown to over 70% of all informants below the age of 40 and to those who first started fishing after 1995. This rapid rate of cultural baseline shift suggests that once even megafaunal species cease to be encountered on a fairly regular basis, they are rapidly forgotten by local communities

For more information:

10 March 2010

Tethys si affida a Banca Etica

Erano diversi anni che Tethys valutava la possibilità di affidare i propri movimenti finanziari a una banca che riflettesse lo spirito ambientalista, non-profit e trasparente dell’Istituto.

Già nel lontano 1999 abbiamo preso i primi contatti con Banca Etica, che allora muoveva i primi passi nel complesso mondo delle banche italiane adottando i criteri della Finanza Etica come punto di riferimento per le proprie attività.

A quel tempo, tuttavia, a Banca Etica mancavano ancora gli strumenti bancari necessari perché potessimo affidarci a loro. Abbiamo dovuto quindi attendere che i tempi maturassero e che Banca Etica diventasse a tutti gli effetti operativa per le necessità amministrative di Tethys.

Nel 2010, un anno dopo essere diventati ONLUS (Organizzazione Non Lucrativa di Utilità Sociale), abbiamo ritenuto importante affidarci a un ente che pone la trasparenza e l’attenzione alle conseguenze delle azioni economiche tra i valori principali su cui basare le proprie attività.

Pertanto, da gennaio Tehys ha aperto un conto con Banca Etica, sul quale afferiranno le principali movimentazioni dell’Istituto.

Elena Politi


Banca Popolare Etica, all'Art. 5 del proprio Statuto, così esplicita i propri valori di riferimento:

• la finanza eticamente orientata è sensibile alle conseguenze non economiche delle azioni economiche;
• il credito, in tutte le sue forme, è un diritto umano;
• l'efficienza e la sobrietà sono componenti della responsabilità etica;
• il profitto ottenuto dal possesso e scambio di denaro deve essere conseguenza di attività orientate al bene comune e deve essere equamente distribuito tra tutti i soggetti che concorrono alla sua realizzazione;
• la massima trasparenza di tutte le operazioni è un requisito fondante di qualunque attività di finanza etica;
• va favorita la partecipazione alle scelte dell'impresa, non solo da parte dei soci, ma anche dei risparmiatori;
• l'istituzione che accetta i princìpi della finanza etica orienta con tali criteri l'intera sua attività.

Nell'ambito di questi valori di riferimento, Banca Etica opera con la seguente missione:

• essere i pionieri di una nuova idea di banca, intesa come luogo di incontro, dove le persone e la banca manifestano trasparenza, solidarietà e partecipazione facendo della banca uno strumento anche culturale per la promozione di un'economia che ritiene fondamentale la valutazione sociale ed ambientale del proprio agire.
• stimolare chi riceve il credito a sviluppare le competenze, le capacità e l'autonomia necessarie ad acquisire la responsabilità economica, sociale ed ambientale.
• garantire il risparmiatore in ordine alla precisione, all'efficienza della gestione e all'uso degli affidamenti, all'attenzione all'uso delle risorse (sobrietà) ed alla ripartizione dei profitti, in modo coerente con le proprie attese.
• agire nel rispetto dell'uomo e dell'ambiente e delle specificità culturali dei contesti territoriali in cui opera Banca Etica, per una migliore qualità della vita, orientando coerentemente le attività della banca stessa.
• permettere l'accesso al credito ai soggetti dell'Economia Sociale: imprese, persone e progetti valutati principalmente per la loro capacità di produrre "valore sociale".

06 March 2010

The early ADP in Losinj, Croatia

One more video (Italian narration) bringing back memories of the early Adriatic Dolphin Project in Losinj, Croatia.

04 March 2010

In the good old days

One more video from the good old days, posted by Drasko Holcer.

It features Tethys researchers working with 'eco-volunteers' back in the mid 1990s.

(Italian narration)

If you are interested in attending ongoing research courses by Tethys in Italy and Greece, please check:

Adriatic Dolphin Project video

Drasko Holcer, President of Blue World, posted a video collage with bits of history of the Adriatic Dolphin Project:


There is a short part at the beginning which relates to the 14-year period (1987-2000) when the project was managed by Tethys.

Additional information about the Adriatic Dolphin Project can be found at:


01 March 2010

Ma quale orca assassina

di Giuseppe Notarbartolo di Sciara

Articolo tratto da Rivista della Natura


Non ci ha fatto certo piacere aver appreso dalla stampa di una donna la cui giovane vita è stata stroncata dal ghiribizzo di un’orca. A rincarare la dose del nostro sconforto, tuttavia, è andata ad aggiungersi una sequela di scempiaggini propagate dai media che una volta di più ci dimostra come l’umana percezione del proprio rapporto con gli animali, con il mare, con l’ambiente in genere permanga – forse incorreggibilmente - inchiodata ai livelli più sconcertanti di ignoranza e qualunquismo.

In primo luogo quel nome – “orca assassina” – goffa traduzione dell’inglese killer whale di becera tradizione baleniera. Le orche erano viste attaccare le balene e per questo erano dei killer; tuttavia, non si capisce perché debba essere più killer l’orca di un delfino che ghermisce la sardina, di un gatto che acchiappa un topo, o a dir la verità anche del baleniere stesso che ammazzava qualsiasi cetaceo gli capitasse a tiro. Nell’aggiungere che lo strafalcione suona tanto più fuori luogo con l’orca, la cui socialità è tra le più salde, regolate e solidali tra quelle note nei mammiferi, ci pare quasi di sparare sulla Croce Rossa. Ovvio che in una delle rarissime circostanze in cui un’orca ha attaccato un essere umano (sei a quanto ci risulta, tutte guarda caso riguardanti animali in cattività), a questi zappatori della carta stampata non è parso vero di appioppare all’orca un appellativo che non potrebbe essere più ecologicamente, etologicamente ed eticamente scorretto.

Secondo: ci meravigliamo che un’orca abbia ucciso un essere umano, quando invece dovremmo meravigliarci del perché i più temibili predatori del mare persistano nel comportarsi in maniera così inspiegabilmente benevola nei confronti della nostra specie. Grandi come camion, capaci di sviluppare scatti di oltre 30 nodi, dotate di grande intelligenza e coordinamento, le orche terrorizzano tutti gli abitanti degli oceani, dalle gigantesche balenottere alle piccole aringhe. Eppure rispettano l’uomo: un vero mistero, anche tenendo conto che tale rispetto non ha loro valso un trattamento migliore da parte nostra. Viene pertanto da chiedersi se il vecchio Tilikum – orca maschio del Sea World di Orlando, catturato in Islanda 27 anni fa, che ha causato la morte dell’addestratrice Dawn Brancheau oltre ad essere stato coinvolto in altri due dei sei eventi di cui sopra - non sia semplicemente un essere avvezzo, più che a intenti omicidi, a un gioco troppo pesante per interazioni con queste mezze cartucce che siamo noi umani.

Infine, la domanda che secondo me ha più senso di tutte è affiorata ben raramente sui media. Cosa ci fa un’orca in una vasca che, fatte le proporzioni, è come una vasca da bagno per una carpa di 10 kg? Abbiamo strappato con la violenza questi animali sociali e intelligenti dalle loro comunità per confinarli in uno spazio innaturale, che nulla ha a che fare con l’habitat in cui si sono evolute, fingendo finalità educative ma in realtà in nome del profitto: una delle tante brutte pagine del rapporto dell’uomo con il mare. È vero che più della metà delle orche oggi rinchiuse negli acquari è nata in cattività, ma questo migliora ben di poco la situazione, perché le orche non sono fatte per questa vita. La domanda non viene posta perché un’orca chiusa in una piscina non fa notizia così come non ne fa una carpa in vasca da bagno; quello che fa notizia è l’orca in piscina che ha fatto polpette di uno dei suoi carcerieri. Chissà mai che il triste evento di Orlando possa indurci a rivedere radicalmente le nostre posizioni nei confronti della cattività, e a considerare i collegamenti esistenti tra l’umana smania di dominio e il crescente degrado del mondo in cui viviamo, che da tale smania deriva. Se così avvenisse, almeno Dawn non sarebbe morta per niente.

Should killer whales not kill?

Killer whale kills SeaWorld trainer

Orca uccide addestratrice del SeaWorld

Why not let orcas kill their own prey in the wild, instead of using these top predators as toys and then be shocked if some of them, sometimes, behave as wild animals?

Giovanni Bearzi