Whales and dolphins of the Adriatic Sea: present knowledge, threats and conservation





Cetaceans, fisheries, human impact, management, marine mammals, Mediterranean Sea, mortality


       The Adriatic Sea is one of the Mediterranean areas most exposed to cumulative human stressors. This semienclosed and largely shallow basin has been subjected to intensive exploitation and destructive fishing practices for decades, resulting in biodiversity decline and poor ecosystem health. Diversity of cetaceans is lower than in other parts of the Mediterranean, and the extant dolphins and whales have been facing threats that include the combined effects of habitat loss and degradation, prey depletion, incidental mortality and injury caused by fisheries, anthropogenic noise, chemical contamination and climate change. Here, we report information for the nine cetacean species known to occur in the basin (classified as either regular, visitor or vagrant), plus three species characterized by a single record. For these species, we review evidence from field research and other studies – with a bias towards the common bottlenose dolphin Tursiops truncatus (by far the most intensively-studied cetacean in this area). We also describe and characterize the main threats to cetaceans in the Adriatic, relying on recent literature as well as historical information that helps frame the present status of cetaceans in the context of past human impacts (particularly the extensive killing campaigns conducted until the 1960s). Finally, we provide management recommendations to inform and guide the action that must be taken in compliance with extant legislation, marine conservation directives and international commitments to protect marine biodiversity.