Studying whales and dolphins in Southern Italy

The waters to the east and north-east of Sicily as well as in the Strait of Messina are ideal habitats for whales and dolphins. In particular, deep-diving species such as Risso’s dolphin, Cuvier’s beaked whale and sperm whale find an optimal underwater world in this region.

Up to now, little has been known about the presence of cetacean species and their populations in this region; a region heavily impacted by shipping traffic. To resolve this, OceanCare documents the spatial and seasonal distribution of marine mammals and examines where conflicts between humans and marine animals need to be resolved to better protect whales and dolphins and these habitats that are their homes.

Take part and collect important data

The crew of the research vessel – one OceanCare scientist, one skipper, and six research participants – document whale and dolphin sightings. OceanCare then feeds the data into OBIS-SEAMAP, an online database used worldwide to identify important marine habitats in specific need of protection. In addition, OceanCare collects the research findings in a web-based Geographic Information System ( for scientific analysis.

A qualitative habitat assessment with special focus on plastic pollution is another aspect of the research. The Mediterranean is among the ocean regions most heavily polluted with plastic items, but little is known about the waste’s quantitative development and composition. Macroplastic samples are examined visually in the research region, while microplastic samples are taken by means of a special net and then sent to a laboratory for examination. Further, information meetings and beach cleaning activities with the local population are being planned.

Experiencing unforgettable moments at sea

It is only because of the participation of research volunteers, who search the sea for flukes and fins, that we are able to obtain such data. At sea, it takes a lot of concentration to notice surfacing animals between the waves and to make sure that these sightings are translated into scientific data.

Research participants gain a unique nature experience and first-hand understanding of the everyday life of a researcher. This hands-on environmental education also teaches participants lots of surprising things about marine life and conservation practice. And, of course, in the sunny south of Italy, participants won’t miss out on relaxed get-together with like-minded people. It surely says something for the OceanCare research projects that many of the research volunteers come back on board, often for several years.

Dates and facts

Living and doing research aboard a sailing ship
Course language: German

Programme & cost 2018 (German)
Dates for 2019 follow in autumn 2018.