Marine Mammals Research Association
Annual Report 2021
Collecting Scientific Data to Fill
Existing Data Gaps on Cetacean
Conservation in Turkey
Five Years of Dedicated Research Effort on Coastal and Deep-
Diving Cetacean Species
Aylin Akkaya, Selina Brouwer, Tim Awbery, Patrick Lyne, Derya Özciğer Senalp,
Duru Güneş Yalçın, Kerim Akkaya
Survey Area 5
Survey platforms 5
Land surveys: 5
Boat surveys: 6
Data Analysis 7
The dolphins and porpoises of the Istanbul Strait 7
The Common Dolphins of Common Seas 12
Dolphins in the Bay of Antalya 13
Giant Guardians of the Deep Seas 16
Public Outreach 18
DMAD ın The Community 21
Publication and Conferences 22
Almost every cetacean species shows a worrying population decline in the entire
Mediterranean Sea, which has resulted in their classification as either endangered,
or vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. Currently, not only the coastal species but also
the pelagic species of cetaceans show patchy and scarce distributions in locations
where they were once widely distributed and abundant. Common dolphins
(Delphinus delphis) are absent from the habitats where they were once the most
common species. Bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus), known as the
cosmopolitan coastal species, show signs of starvation. Sperm whales (Physeter
macrocephalus), the giants of the deep-sea, are scattered with less than 2,500
mature individuals in the entire Mediterranean. Cuvier’s beaked whales (Ziphius
cavirostris), the marine mammals which hold the record as the deepest divers, are
still one of the least known species in the Mediterranean. Cetacean species fill an
important role from their pelagic to deep-sea habitats and their role for our planet
extends beyond the boundaries of the marine realm to benefit the terrestrial one;
they store thousands of tonnes of carbon throughout their lifetime as well as
trapping this in the sea after their death, thus counteracting climate change. They are
also known as ecosystem engineers due to their role in the nutrient cycle with their
sole presence indicating habitats which are rich in diversity. Nevertheless, these
marine top predators are under a wide range of threats, from habitat destruction, to
overfishing, bycatch, marine traffic, pollution, loud and impulsive noise from
seismic and sonar operations and climate change. Each and all of the above threats
exist, often in combination with multiple other threats, and pile pressure on the
territorial waters of Turkey. Despite being aware of the present threats, we do not
know the range of impacts that these unregulated human activities are having and an
assessment of their cumulative effect is a long way away with even less knowledge
present within the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, including Turkey. Cetaceans live
between 10s and 100s of years, they reach their maturity almost half-way through
their lifespan, and have long interbreeding intervals. Therefore, any short-term
threat we introduce to their environment is going to have long term consequences to
the species with little hope of restoration. That being the case, we must live and
learn from these magnificent creatures, assess the threats and choose our approach
to minimise our negative footprint.
DMAD-Marine Mammals Research Association was established in 2015 to
understand the current situation of cetacean species, to gather baseline knowledge
which is an essential tool for their effective conservation and to assess human
pressures within the territorial waters of Turkey. The projects of DMAD stretch
from one of the busiest waterways in the entire world, the Istanbul Strait, to the
protected waters of the Dilek Peninsula, while conducting dedicated effort in one
of the tourist hotspots, the Gulf of Antalya and more recently the entire Eastern
Mediterranean Sea of Turkey, covering the coastal and deep sea habitats between
Gocek and Hatay. While taking a scientific approach to the assessment of species
and the existing threats, DMAD values the importance of public engagement for
the successful implementation of project results and in-situ conservation actions
and therefore have developed public awareness projects and capacity enrichment
both for early career researchers, students and anyone interested in learning. Our
research efforts have identified critical habitats for both coastal and deep-sea
species within the territorial waters of Turkey, contributing to the selection of
Istanbul Strait and its adjacent waters as an “Important Marine Mammal Areas
(IMMA)” and the Gulf of Antalya selected as an “Area of Interest” by the Marine
Mammal Task Force. The research in partnership with WWF-Turkey and TUDAV
led to the acceptance of Istanbul Strait and its adjacent waters as an IMMA.
Furthermore, the first ever dedicated research effort, covering the entire waters of
the Eastern Mediterranean Sea of Turkey, has now been started by DMAD. Rather
than restricting survey efforts to the summer months like many research projects,
DMAD also considers the spatial-temporal distribution of these important species
within our waters. urkey is a country that holds critical habitats for cetaceans such
as foraging, nursing, and socialising grounds for coastal and deep-diving species,
throughout its waters in the Turkish Strait System, Aegean Sea and the Eastern
Mediterranean. Our research effort highlights the invaluable importance of these
waters for top predators that are known as climate warriors. Yet, our effort has also
revealed sharp declines in the sighting rates of species since 2015 and an ever
increasing uncontrolled human presence within the same waters. With the current
pandemic our world is facing, this is a year to question our actions and understand
how fragile we actually are if we do not work hand in hand with nature. This self-
awareness will create the CHANGE we need for our survival that completely
relies on decreasing our footprint on the only planet we know we can live on!
Cetaceans are often considered important keystone, indicator, and umbrella species
(Parsons et al., 2015; Sergio et al., 2008). Despite their key roles in marine
ecosystems, baseline information on both coastal and deep-sea cetacean species in
the Mediterranean is highly fragmented with western and central basin housing
comparably more research effort than the eastern and southern Mediterranean
(Bearzi et al., 2008a; Boisseau et al., 2010; Dede et al., 2012; Notarbartolo di
Sciara & Birkun, 2010; Santostasi et al., 2016). Knowing that knowledge gaps are
one of the main obstacles to the effective protection of a species, the population
decline that each Mediterranean subpopulation of cetaceans is facing today can
have irreversible consequences not only for the species but also at an ecosystem
level (Akkaya et al., 2020; Ballance, 2018; Braulik et al., 2018; Katona &
Whitehead, 1988; Matear et al., 2019; Romero & Keith, 2012). Studies in the
Eastern Mediterranean Sea have mainly been centred around opportunistic
sightings, stranding reports and occasional surveys (Kerem et al., 2012; Frantzis et
al., 1999, 2003; Giannoulaki et al., 2017; Kinzelbach, 1986; Marchessaux, 1980;
Öztürk et al., 2011, 2013), with a steady increase of interest in cetacean research
since the 1990s (Goffman et al., 2000; Kerem et al., 2012; Notarbartolo di Sciara
& Birkun, 2010). Turkish, Israeli and Lebanese waters stand out as the main
locations where cetaceans research has been targeted (Bas et al., 2016a; Boisseau
et al., 2010; Dede et al., 2012; Goffman et al., 2000; Kerem et al., 2012), while a
few basin wide survey efforts have taken place in the Eastern Basin, the most
recent of which was the ACCOBAMS Survey Initiative in 2018 (ACCOBAMS,
2018; Boisseau et al., 2010; Dede et al., 2012; Ryan et al., 2014). Regarding
systematic studies conducted in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea of Turkey, a single
survey in the summer seasons formed the only survey effort before 2015, when a
dedicated photo-identification study was conducted (Bas et al., 2016b). Bottlenose
dolphins were the main reported species (Goffman et al. 2000; Kerem et al., 2012;
Notarbartolo di Sciara & Birkun, 2010), yet several delphinid species as well as
Sperm Whales and Cuvier’s beaked whales were also reported from the region
(Bas et al. 2016c; Boisseau et al 2010; Dede et al., 2012; Drouot, 2004; Frantzis et
al., 2011, 2014; Gannier & Epinat, 2008). Despite the increased survey effort, no
further baseline information such as encounter rates, habitat preferences, or
population sizes exist in the area. The Aegean Sea, the northernmost section of the
Eastern Mediterranean, holds a relatively higher research effort compared to the
Levantine Region. Systematic surveys and stranding reports in the region began in
the early 1990s, documenting the distribution of delphinid species from north to
south (Aytemiz et al., 2003; Carpentieri et al.1999; Frantzis et al., 2003; Öztürk &
Öztürk, 1998; Öztürk et al., 2001). While the majority of the studies were localised
targeting encounter rates, group size, seasonal variations and population size
estimates (Alan et al., 2017, 2018; Altug et al., 2011; Giannoulaki et al., 2017;
Milani et al., 2017; Ryan et al., 2014), regionwide surveys were rare, resulting in
an absence of population size estimates for the entire Aegean Sea.
The majority of the studies highlighted that the northern Aegean Sea is a habitat of
high cetacean density particularly in the Thracian Sea, the Thermaic Gulf and the
Northern Dodecanese (Bearzi et al., 2003; 2005, 2008b; Frantzis et al., 2003;
Ryan et al., 2013). Öztürk & Öztürk, (1996) established the presence of 9
cetaceans inhabiting the northern and central regions of the Turkish Aegean
waters. Studies targeting population sizes and photo-identification methods
increased by the early 2010s (Vahit et al., 2014, 2017, 2018; Ryan et al. 2014).
The Turkish straits systems (TSS) was probably one of the most studied locations
in the Eastern Basin. TSS is a transition site between the Black Sea and
Mediterranean, serving as an acclimatisation zone for migratory species (Öztürk &
Öztürk, 1996). It hosts three cetacean species whose presence was first identified
by Deveciyan (1926) and their regular occurrence was noted as a resident
population in the Istanbul Strait in the early 1950s ( Tezel 1958). The first seasonal
line transect surveys of the TSS took place between 1997 and 1999 to estimate the
population size of delphinids (Dede, 1999). A dedicated photo-identification study
started in 2011 to understand the residency pattern and site fidelities of each
species (Bas et al., 2016b). In summary, despite the increased research effort
within the regions of the Eastern Mediterranean Sea since the 2010s, data gaps are
still the main barrier to marine protection. The Mediterranean Sea is listed as a
Global Biodiversity Hotspot and a scarcity or lack of robust knowledge invariably
undermines marine protection goals (Bearzi et al., 2008a), specifically considering
the number of unregulated human pressures in these data deficient locations. The
marine biodiversity of the Mediterranean Sea is under a wide range of human
pressures and the Eastern Mediterranean is no exception. Whilst an understanding
of the current threats to marine mammals exists, this understanding does not
extend to the impact that these threats are missing at a species level and threat
assessments for individual species are generally missing for the entire basin. The
biggest threats to marine mammals in the Eastern Mediterranean and Black Seas
are habitat destruction due to coastal infrastructure development, by-catch due to
entanglement in driftnets (even though driftnets are banned by all Mediterranean
countries) and the overexploitation of fish stocks that cause starvation of the
cetaceans. Another threat is increasing marine pollution such as plastics and
chemicals. In addition to this, particularly for deep diving species such as sperm
whales and beaked whales, ever increasing underwater noise pollution produced
by sonar during military exercises or for seismic surveying to find oil and gas and
the noise from shipping lines, remains a threat as they interfere with marine
mammals’ echolocation system and causes physiological disruption such as stress
or even death. (IUCN, 2012)
DMAD has targeted four different survey locations; Istanbul Strait, Dilek Peninsula, Antalya and
Eastern Mediterranean Sea of Turkey (Figure1). The studies in the Istanbul Strait have been
undertaken since 2011, Antalya began in 2015, and the Eastern Mediterranean and Dilek Peninsula
began being targeted in 2018 and 2019, respectively and since then each location has had a
seasonal survey effort.
Figure 1. Survey Areas of DMAD in Turkey.
To get the geographical position of the cetaceans and the marine vessels in the area, a theodolite
(SOKKIA DT5A) is used and simultaneously recorded in the software Pythagoras (version 1.2) to
map their distribution, behaviour and group cohesion (Figures 2 & 3).
Figures 2 & 3:Land survey in Antalya in 2021.
While stratified random routes are followed during the boat surveys in Istanbul, Dilek and
Antalya, pre-determined transects are followed during the surveys in the Eastern Mediterranean
Sea. The geographical coordinates of the boat were recorded every minute using Logger 2010
(Marine Conservation Research, 2019). In the case of a cetacean sighting, data is collected on
behaviour, group cohesion, marine traffic density and photo-identification. While the boat surveys
take a day in Istanbul, Dilek and Antalya, the Eastern Mediterranean Sea survey is continued for a
minimum of 20 days with 24 hours/day effort, thus letting us collect data on the distribution of
cetaceans during the night as well as during the day (figure 4 - 5).
Figures 4 & 5: Visual data collection during “Giant Guardians of the Deep Sea”
in the Levantine Sea.
Figures 6 & 7: Acoustic data collection during “Giant Guardians of the Deep Sea”
in the Levantine Sea.
The current report analyses data that was collected between 2015 and 2021. The report
firstly presents the variation in survey effort and sighting rate per year for each location.
Photo-identification results are also presented with their sighting history for Istanbul,
Dilek Peninsula and Antalya. Species distribution maps are created to delineate critical
habitats for the species.
DMAD bridges research and conservation activities to collect missing scientific
knowledge within the Eastern Mediterranean Sea of Turkey while highlighting the
importance of the involvement of public and stakeholders for the effective implementation
of project results on the conservation of the species. Therefore DMAD started its scientific
effort in 2015 in Antalya and since then has begun running four projects targeting
cetaceans and the existing threats in the habitats that they live; “The Dolphins and
Porpoises of the Istanbul Strait”, “Common dolphins of Common Seas - Dilek Peninsula”,
“Dolphins in the Bay of Antalya” and “The Giant Guardians of the Deep Seas - Eastern
Mediterranean Sea of Turkey.”
The dolphins and porpoises of the
The project builds on the PhD thesis of Dr Aylin Akkaya. The project has been an ongoing
effort since 2011 with a three year research gap between 2014 and 2016 (Table 1 &
2). Land surveys comprised 81% of the total survey effort. Since 2017, however, the
majority of the effort has been made up of boat surveys. Since the establishment of
DMAD in 2015, there have only been 13 days of survey in the Istanbul Strait with an
increased effort in 2021 (Table 1 & 2). Regarding the seasons, 2012 and 2013
represent the main years with a similar survey effort between seasons. Since 2017, the
effort has shown considerable variation between seasons (Table 1 & 2) although this
is in part due to COVID-19 pandemic.
2011 2012 2013 2017 2019 2020
434 20 1 5 3 5
36 139 133 0 0 0 3
40 173 153 1 53 8
Sighting rates also varied between years but the chance of sighting a dolphin in the Istanbul
Strait was always more than 50% with an overall mean sighting rate of 73%. Another
interesting fact was that since 2017,dolphins were reported in each survey. However as a
result of a considerably low number of survey efforts, we cannot conclude that dolphins and
porpoises are present every single day in the Strait. To reach an accurate conclusion, we must
conduct dedicated survey effort both within and between seasons and years (Figure 8 & 9).
Sighting rates of cetaceans remained relatively similar but autumn months had a lower
sighting rate of 54%. Spring and summer, held the highest sighting rate of cetaceans in the
Strait (Figure 8 & 9).
0 3 28 9 40
36 44 52 41 173
47 53 15 38 153
1 0 0 0 1
0 0 4 1 5
0 1 1 1 3
3 4 0 1 8
87 105 100 91 383
Table 1 & 2. The variation of survey effort between
years and seasons.
2011 2012 2013 2017 2019 2020 2021
Spring Summer Autumn Winter
Figure 8 & 9. The variation on the sighting rate of cetaceans per year within the Strait.
Overall, 489 sightings of cetaceans took place in the Strait. Bottlenose dolphins were
the most frequently sighted species followed by harbour porpoises and then common
dolphins (Figure 10).
Figure 10. Species sighting in the Istanbul Strait
The survey effort revealed the year-round presence of bottlenose dolphins, common
dolphins and harbour porpoises within the Istanbul Strait and its adjacent waters
(Figure 11). While bottlenose dolphins and common dolphins were sighted mostly in
spring and summer, harbour porpoises were encountered the most in summer and
winter. Autumn had the least recorded sightings for each species (Figure12).
Spring Summer Autumn Winter
Figure 11. Sighting variation of species per season in the Istanbul Strait.
The distribution map of cetaceans revealed that the northern followed by the southern
entries of the Strait hold the highest densities for each species, while the middle
section was comparably less preferred by each species. Bottlenose dolphins had the
highest densities within the Strait compared to the other two species while porpoises
had the lowest density despite being the second highest sighted species of the Strait,
due to their lower group sizes (Figure 12).
Figure 12: Spatial distribution of the cetaceans in the Istanbul Strait
(displayed densities are dolphin groups/m2).
The Istanbul strait holds foraging, nursing, and socialising grounds and possibly a
migration corridor for each species. Despite the importance of this waterway for these
top predators, the existing human threats continue in an uncontrolled fashion from
habitat destruction to pollution, bycatch, overfishing and marine traffic. Not only is the
main effect of each of these threats important to assess but also the cumulative effect of
anthropogenic stressors on these already threatened populations. The current spatial
distribution maps already indicate variation in area usage with a preference for the
northern followed by the southern waters of the Istanbul Strait, which hold comparably
less marine traffic. The waters in between Eminönü and Sarıyer are under pressure from
intense marine traffic activity with over 2000 vessels being present in this narrow strait
per day. It is not just the international maritime traffic but also the local traffic that
creates wide ranging and unassessed threats to the marine ecosystem, including the
dolphins and porpoises. It has already been documented that bottlenose dolphins showed
avoidance of certain areas during the fishing seasons favouring the less crowded waters
and altered their behaviours such as foraging and socialising in locations with high
marine traffic density. With all the specific features it holds, Istanbul Strait is a “critical
habitat” for cetaceans, and as a result it has recently been selected as an “Important
Marine Mammal Area” by the Marine Mammal Task Force (Figure 13). Considering
its vital importance both for Black Sea and Mediterranean populations of dolphins and
porpoises, adjective with the ever increasing human presence in the area, the strait holds
every feature which is considered to classify a “Particularly Sensitive Sea Area” and
needs urgent actions in order to protect it.
Figure 13: IMMA in the Turkish straits system
(Marine Mammal Protected Area Task Force, 2021)
The Common Dolphins of Common Seas
The project was implemented in partnership with WWF-Turkey. Overall 10 boat surveys have
been conducted in the Dilek Peninsula National Park since January 2019. While summer,
autumn, winter seasons were covered in 2019 and 2020 surveys, survey effort was limited to a
single summer survey in 2021 due to the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic. Common
dolphins were the only sighted species, of which 23 groups were encountered during the surveys.
Group size ranged from two to 12 individuals and subadults were always present within the
group. Travelling was the most dominant activity of the sighted groups which may indicate that
Dilek Peninsula is a biological corridor between foraging grounds for sardine hunting. A photo-
identification study revealed 40 distinct common dolphins in the Dilek Peninsula (Figures 14 -
Figures 14 - 17: Four different identified Short-beaked common dolphins at the Dilek Peninsula
Spatial distribution of common dolphins revealed the presence of this endangered species was
not just confined to within the protected area boundary but also extending into Kusadası Bay
with an increased density in the Dilek Strait (Figure 18).
Figure 18: Spatial distribution of common dolphins in the Dilek Peninsula Protected Area and
its neighbouring waters (displayed densities are common dolphin groups/ km2).
In summary, each survey revealed the importance of common dolphins within and beyond
the boundaries of Dilek Peninsula Protected Area, where subadult presence was reported
throughout the year, with additional sightings of newborns. Further, this is the first study in
this region that has analysed the acoustic behaviour of this rare species. Common dolphins
are one of the most endangered species within the Entire Mediterranean Sea. Dilek
Peninsula falls under the National Park (NP) protection status and was the first declared
protected area in Turkey in 1966, with the addition of the Great Menderes Delta in 1994 by
the Ministry of Environment and Forestry (Çelik et al. 2004; Kılıçaslan et al. 2011). The
national park mainly covers the terrestrial habitats with only the coastline and intertidal
zones protected in the marine realm. Therefore, the sole presence of common dolphins
highlights the importance of the Dilek Peninsula National Park and also underlines the
importance of extending the boundaries of the protection status to the territorial waters of
Turkey within the region. Last but not least, the peninsula holds one of the narrowest
straits in the Aegean Sea that connects the Turkish and Greek waters, with a distance of
1.6km. The dolphins reported in Dilek Peninsula are also present in the waters of Samos
Island, which emphasises the importance of transboundary research and conservation
effort between the two neighbouring countries for effective conservation of the common
dolphin population that is already showing worrying signs of decline.
Dolphins in the Bay of Antalya
The project started in Antalya in 2015 and since then has run seasonal land and boat
surveys in Antalya with 204 days of survey effort thus far. While 2015 held the highest
survey effort with 110 days of survey, 2020 had only three days of survey due to the
Covid-19 pandemic. 2016 and 2017 had a similar effort of 22 days of survey in each year
while 2021 was the second most surveyed year with 47 days of effort. There were no
surveys in 2018 due to the limitation in resources available. Overall, 132 groups of
bottlenose dolphins, four groups of Cuvier’s beaked whales and two groups of striped
dolphins were detected within the survey area. Regarding the sighting rate between
seasons, cetaceans showed a high preference for warmer seasons with spring having the
highest sighting rate while colder seasons had considerably less cetacean sightings (Figure
20 & 21). Sightings varied between years as well. It was highest in 2017 with sightings
during 69% of surveys with a rapid decline to 13% in 2021 (Figure 19 & 20).
Summer Spring Autumn Winter
2015 2016 2017 2020 2021
Figure 19 & 20: Sighting rate per season and year in Antalya bay.
While there was a worrying decline of cetacean sightings, mainly being bottlenose dolphins, a
photo-identification study revealed the presence of 80 individuals in the Bay of Antalya of which
certain individuals have been sighted since 2015, highlighting the high site fidelity of bottlenose
dolphins (Figures 21 & 22).
Figure 21: Bottlenose Dolphin identified as number 0028 in Antalya
Figure 22 : Bottlenose Dolphin identified as number 0029 in Antalya
Additionally, Cuvier’s beaked whales are one of the least studied cetacean species in the entire
Mediterranean Sea. However, DMAD recorded solitary individuals and mother-calf pairs of this
rare species between 2015 and 2017 (Figure 23). Since 2018, no individuals have been sighted in
Figure 23: First and Second sighting of a Cuvier’s Beaked whale individual, 4 and 18 June 2015,
Antalya Bay. 14
Regarding the spatial distribution of cetaceans, bottlenose dolphins were found to be highly coastal
with a distribution in waters shallower than 500m depth yet this might be just a reflection of
survey effort, rather than representing their full home range. Striped dolphins were sighted on the
800m contour line and Cuvier’s beaked whales were found between 500 and 1000m depth (Figure
Due to the dedicated research effort of DMAD, Antalya Bay has been selected as an “Area of
Interest” by the Marine Mammal Protected Area Task Force. Yet, the same habitat is under the
heavy pressure of uncontrolled tourism activities, loud and impulsive noise presence, pollution and
habitat destruction and the negative impact of threats on these key species may already be
showing. It is alarming to note the current decline in sighting rate for both bottlenose dolphins and
Cuvier’s beaked whales. While the recorded decline may be the result of variation in their natural
habits, it is also likely to be influenced by the ever increasing human population and thus ever
increasing pressure in these coastal waters. Despite Antalya being a year-round destination for
tourism, the city has a steep increase in the number of tourists with 307% in warmer months
(annual tourism news bulletins published by the Turkey Ministry of Tourism and Culture), which
consequently increases the coastal marine traffic, marine debris and noise pollution in the locations
where the bottlenose dolphin distribution simultaneously overlaps (REF). According to annual
tourism news bulletins published by the Turkey Ministry of Tourism and Culture (T.C. Turizm ve
Kültür Bakanlığı, turizm istatistikleri yıllık bülten), Antalya showed an increase on its
international arrivals from around 12 million to 14,6 million between 2015 and 2019, yet with
some fluctuations between years. Due to the Covid19, the number of international and national
arrivals to Antalya decreased to around 3 million in 2020 or 2021. Bottlenose dolphins do also
show variations on their sighting rate in Antalya and one of the reasons for this variation may be
linked to tourism activities, yet this assumption has to be investigated first before drawing any
conclusions. Further, Cuvier’s beaked whales are known to be one of the most sensitive species to
the loud and impulsive noise (Fernández, 2004; Frantzis, 1998; Heyning & Mead, 2009; Soto et
al., 2006). The territorial waters of Antalya showed a rapid increase in the presence of
anthropogenic noise within the last decade which may explain the absence of the Cuvier’s beaked
whales sighting in these waters. According to the results of our study, despite the current decline,
Antalya does hold important cetacean habitats, thus the value of this city cannot be
underestimated. Therefore, it is vital to promote a sustainable blue economy for the benefit of all
rather than any current destructive tourism activities.
Figure 24: Bottlenose dolphin density
distribution within Antalya Bay (displayed
densities are bottlenose dolphin groups/ km2)
and Cuvier’s beaked whales and striped
Giant Guardians of the Deep
The project evolved in 2018, first covering a relatively small range between Gocek and
Antalya, later the project expanded covering the entire territorial waters of the Eastern
Mediterranean Sea of Turkey from 2020. Overall, 99 days were surveyed across 11
seasons, including both warmer and colder months. 2020 comprised the lowest survey
effort with only 6 days of survey due to the COVID19 pandemic restrictions, however
2021 had 41 days of survey, representing the highest surveyed year. 2018 and 2019
have the same survey effort with 25 survey days per each. The ongoing project effort
resulted in 335 detection of cetaceans, of which 39 groups of sperm whales and 3
groups of Cuvier’s beaked whales were encountered (Table 3). While sperm whales
were mainly reported in warmer seasons with no detection in winter and only one in
autumn, delphinids were present in the area for each season, with similar distribution
both in warmer and colder seasons. The presence of bottlenose dolphins, striped
dolphins and common dolphins were visually confirmed with the former being the
most frequently sighted delphinids, both in coastal and deep waters (Table 3 and
Figure 25) Additionally, marine turtles were recorded on 35 occasions in both warmer
and colder seasons.
The species distribution map revealed that delphinids were present throughout the
study area. Bottlenose dolphins were recorded both in the coastal and deep waters,
reaching depths of up to 3000m. Common dolphins and striped dolphins were
concentrated between Rhodes and the Antalya canyon with no detections further east
than Finike. Sperm whales showed a similar pattern with a distribution range between
Rhodes Basin and Antalya Canyon, with a single detection in the Adana Canyon.
Cuvier’s beaked whales were detected off the coast of Gocek and Kas. Additionally
marine turtles were reported to be mainly coastal but they were also found in the area
of the Finike seamounts (Figure 25).
Table 3: Species detections per season and per year.
The current project is one of the highlights of DMAD’s research effort and forms the only
dedicated research on cetaceans within the entire Eastern Mediterranean Sea with a
seasonal survey effort that employs both traditional visual and advanced acoustic survey
techniques. Despite the encounters of these important key species, the entire Eastern
Mediterranean Sea shows negative signs of the human footprint ranging from habitat
destruction to marine traffic, marine debris and the continuous presence of loud and
impulsive noise. Prior to the dedicated efforts of DMAD, the Eastern Mediterranean Sea
was regarded as holding one of the least favourable habitats for cetaceans. However, our
research effort revealed that the basin does hold important cetacean habitats and the lack of
sightings were only reflecting the lack of research effort within the basin, rather than the
absence of the species. DMAD’s ongoing research effort has filled an important gap in
knowledge and will continue its activities in the upcoming years to shed light on the
scientific knowledge that is critical for the effective management and conservation of
cetaceans that are considered indicators of ecosystem health.
Figure 25: Species distribution within the Eastern Mediterranean Sea of Turkey.
From a conservation perspective, DMAD considers its role as one that enhances the
scientific knowledge of local researchers as well as one that encourages the importance
of citizens not only for conservation actions but also for research itself. Therefore,
DMAD released their “Remote Internship” opportunities to local students where anyone
can sign up and gain key skills on data interpretation, while broadcasting tutorials on
Geographic Information Systems on youtube which have been viewed more than 60,000
Figure 26. DMAD’s Reach: Where our interns (onsite and remote) are from and
countries that our free online GIS courses have been viewed.
In addition to the online learning skills, prior to each survey, five workshops were
organised on visual and acoustic survey techniques that have been attended by over 100
local students (Figure 27).
Figure 27: Practical training of local students
during a land survey.
Subsequently, each student was invited to participate in the “Giant Guardians of the
Deep Seas” project to gain practical skills, with 50 local students participating. Also, in
the last five years there has been a more and more demand for people with a Marine
Mammal Observer and Passive Acoustic Monitoring qualification. Therefore in July
2019, DMAD the “ACCOBAMS High Quality Marine Mammal Observer and Passive
Acoustic Monitoring” certification workshop, which reached 16 local students and early
career researchers (Figure 28).
Figure 28: ACCOBAMS Highly Qualified MMO/PAM course
In addition to the capacity building activities, five different dolphin watching tours have
been organised for disadvantaged students and children of Turkey since 2018. In addition to
this DMAD organised an Art Exhibition in IC Cesme Marina in September 2021 and
reached over 200 people through the artwork “Cetaceans of Turkey” in 2021 (Figure 29).
Alongside this, information posters were created with cetaceans of Turkey and the blue-
economy as their subject heading. The posters were distributed to schools, public halls,
fishery cooperatives and governmental bodies. DMAD published and distributed a bilingual
report with the title “It is too Loud Now!”. The report summarises the evidence of noise
pollution on different species of cetaceans, proposes solutions and ACCOBAMS
Resolutions to be used as a mitigation guide. On top of this, the Istanbul Municipality
prepared a short documentary in October 2021 about Istanbul Strait dolphins to draw
attention to the marine biodiversity of this cosmopolitan city and asked DMAD to
contribute to this. The videos can be found on YouTube and can also be seen aboard every
ferry in Istanbul. Since DMAD’s conception, Yeniliman Fishery cooperative has been
frequently visited to develop mutually beneficial and respectful relationships with one of the
most important stakeholders of the project where DMAD placed a GPS on 20 different
small scale fishery to map the fishing density as well as interviewed the fishers to
understand the magnitude of fishery-cetacean interaction .
Figure 29: Exhibition in Cesme Marina
In 2016, DMAD started a preliminary sighting network in Turkey to get the local
people such as fishers, sailors and observers more involved in the project. Overall, 67
sightings were reported, of which 37% had location references or coordinates to be
mapped. The 25 sightings which were able to be mapped were composed of eight
different cetacean species (Figure 30). While the majority of the sightings were
bottlenose dolphins, Risso’s dolphins were the second most reported species. The
majority of the sightings were reported from Gokceada in the North Aegean Sea (an
area where DMAD does not currently have active operations) as a result of our strong
relationship with the island’s fishing community. This data helps increase our
understanding of the overall distribution of marine mammals in Turkish waters and
emphasises the importance of the established mutually respectful connections between
Figure 30: Reported cetacean sightings in Turkey
Last but not least, a collaboration was made with Setur Marinas in September 2021.
Setur Marinas is a corporation that has the most established and widespread marinas in
Turkey, with a total of 10 marinas along the coastline of Turkey and one in Greece.
Pursuant to company policies, they aim to be a pioneer in nature conservation,
successfully following nature conservation trends, and develop groups for this purpose,
with the objective of disseminating such information into the wider society. DMAD
has partnered with Setur Marinas to bring greater attention to the cetaceans of Turkey
and the threats they are facing. Currently, the marinas display DMAD stickers and
posters emphasising the presence of whales in Turkey and the heavy human pressures
they are under. With a well-established, but ever developing bridge between research
and conservation actions, DMAD has already achieved important milestones in the
understanding and protection of cetaceans within Turkey. Yet, the unknowns
surrounding species' baseline information still outweighs the knowledge we currently
have. Therefore, the continuous systematic research design together with the active
involvement of the public are the key steps of the evolution in the protection of the
marine environment of Turkey.
As DMAD-Marine Mammals Research Association, we would like to thank our
volunteers who have played an important role in the growth of our association since our
establishment, and all our donors for their financial support. We would like to thank the
T.C. General Directorate of Nature Conservation and National Parks of the Ministry of
Agriculture and Forestry for approving our work to become ture, the Setur Marinas for
hosting us with their hospitality during our voyages, and the Coast Guard Group
Commands in the Aegean and the entire Mediterranean region for their accessibility at
any time so that we can continue our operations safely.
We owe a debt of gratitude to our esteemed teacher Prof. Dr.Bayram Öztürk for his
irreplaceable guidance in the works of our association, to Assoc. Prof. Onur Gönülal
and Assoc. Prof. Cem Dalyan the two esteemed scientists and most importantly our
friends for their supports and contributions.
We are also grateful to WWF-Turkey and WWF-Turkey Marine and Wildlife
Programme Manager Ms. Ayşe Oruç for their contribution to our association with their
We are grateful to have many new local students forging new collaborations and
helping us keep the projects going and the Turkish captains who have accepted us on
their boats in recent years.
Finally, we would like to thank everyone who sent us information and photos/videos
when they saw cetacean species on the Turkish coastline. This has really helped us a lot
when we were unable to collect data due to COVID-19.,
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