The Adriatic Dolphin Project is the longest ongoing study of a single resident bottlenose dolphin community in the Mediterranean Sea started in 1987. The aim of this project is to research the population ecology and conservation biology of bottlenose dolphins and other Cetacean species in the Adriatic Sea using genetics, population and habitat modelling and disturbance factors. Since the outset, the project has been an example of best practice in the successful integration of scientific research with practical conservation resulting in declaration of six Natura 2000 sites for bottlenose dolphins. The science undertaken by the Adriatic Dolphin Project aims to provide information to the public and relevant authorities, and promote the protection of the dolphins and their habitat.
Bottlenose dolphins are protected under Croatian law and are placed in the National Red List, categorised as “Endangered”, but without evaluated trends. Their research and conservation has been listed as a priority in Croatian and European nature protection. As such, our research can aid in developing appropriate conservation strategies in the Adriatic Sea and help in the implementation of the Natura 2000 priority actions for marine biodiversity.
Standardized data collection protocols are employed during surveys. These include recording environmental conditions, navigation (times and locations of research vessel), locations of sighting, numbers of encountered dolphins, group composition, photographs of dorsal fins for photo-ID analysis and data about dolphin behaviour and human activities. The data is analysed for abundance, spatial distribution, habitat use and behavioural responses. Standardized protocols allow for exchange of data among researchers working in different parts of the Adriatic and comparison of results. Some additional data and samples are collected occasionally such as the inspection of the fishing trawlers in the area (for the presence of dolphins), interviews with fisherman on dolphin-fisheries interaction, etc.
All data collected in the field is stored in a self-developed digital database and analysed using statistical, photo-editing and GIS software. The Blue World Institute currently holds the largest dataset and largest catalogue of bottlenose dolphins with over 2250 individuals covering over 30 years of surveying within the Adriatic Sea. Digital underwater cameras are being used to film different situations at sea, either for scientific or scenic/visual purposes. In addition, remote sensing using drones is being tested in the field for future use. A database of digital media is being developed and it includes clips of different situations, activities, animals and areas filmed on different locations in the Adriatic Sea.
Through many years of running the Adriatic Dolphin Project, the Blue World Institute gained a thorough insight into the life of bottlenose dolphins along the Adriatic coasts and around the islands of Lošinj, Murter and Vis. Nevertheless, since bottlenose dolphins and other Adriatic Cetacean species use habitat that spans across vast areas, there are many parts, particularly south of the Adriatic Sea, which are yet to be surveyed and discovered. Besides research, the Adriatic Dolphin Project has an educational component in all areas where researchers work. During visits to coastal towns and villages within the archipelago, the team conducts numerous public lectures presenting the up-to-date knowledge about cetacean fauna in the Adriatic Sea and associated conservation issues. Disseminating this knowledge among local communities, youth and fishermen, and leisure boaters could stimulate responsible attitudes towards dolphins and the marine environment in general. Furthermore, the Blue World Institute cooperates with county institutions for management of protected areas and a number of protected sites like the Kornati and Brijuni National Parks, Telašćica and Lastovo Nature Parks with the aim to support inclusion of bottlenose dolphin conservation to management plans and to better understand significance of these protected areas for the local bottlenose dolphins.
The First Dolphins Sighted were:
FB (stands for Freccia Bianca) – first time seen in the 1987/1988 season, last seen on 5.5.2012. Never had a calf, presumably a male. FB was often seen in the northern part of our study area, around Trstenik Island and close to Rab Island.
Giuse – first time seen in the 1987/1988 season, last time observed 31.3.1998; female dolphin. According to our records had one calf in 1994, which was observed until 1999.
Belugo – first time seen in the 1987/1988 season, last time observed 26.8.2008. A male dolphin, our most resident dolphin and among the first ones captured with our camera. Holds a record in diving (longest dive was of 10 minutes).
Zac – first time seen in the 1987/1988 season, last time seen 1994.
Baffo – first time seen in the 1987/1988 season, last time seen 27.8.2003. Often seen with female dolphins such as Allison, Dany, Sean, Noel and Andrea.
Left – first time seen in the 1987/1988 season and last time seen on 15.09.2000. Presumably a male.
Grifo – a female dolphin first time seen in Cres-Lošinj archipelago in July 1992. Its first reported calf was born in 1995. Since then, Grifo is regularly observed and is one of our 44 most resident dolphins, present in these waters all year around. After its first calf became independent Grifo was seen with a second calf named Zizu in 2002, which stayed in the same area as Grifo and is also one of the 44 most resident dolphins. Grifo had three more calves in 2007, 2011 and 2013. Besides being a mother of four dolphins, it is also a grandmother, since Zizu became mother in 2010. We can often observe Grifo in company with its current and adult calves and their babies, so, the family stays together.
Quiz – one of our oldest females. She was first seen in August 1991 when it was observed with its juvenile named Quizsons. Quiz had its second calf in 2001, named Nola. Both Quizsons and Nola are females. Quizsons first calf was born in 2001, the same year as its sister Nola. That year Quiz, Nola, Quizsons and its calf were observed in the same group the whole year. So the grandmother, 2 daughters and the grandchild were in the same group. After Nola, Quiz was never observed with a calf again, but it was observed in the same group with Nola and its first calf in 2010.
Maude – we know her since August 1991. She is one of our most reproductive females, a mother of 6 calves (1994, 1998, 2003, 2006, 2009, and 2014). Her calves from 1993 and 2003 were named Anna and Kiko and are also female. Today Maude is grandmother of four dolphins. Anna became a mother in 2002, 2004 and 2011, and Kiko became a mother in 2010. Together with her family, Maude is often observed in big groups, the so called ͚kindergarten groups͛ of the Cres-Lošinj archipelago. She swims side by side with her calves and grand-calves.
Mirna – first time observed as an adult dolphin in August 1990 and is still regularly seen throughout the whole study area. She is a female dolphin, presumably older than 30 years. Her first two calves, one from 1992 and another one from 1997 are our very well-known males named Meta and Saturn. Both of them are our most resident dolphins observed regularly all year around in Cres-Lošinj archipelago. Mirna became mother three more times in 2003, 2008, 2011. We do not have data if one of Mirnas sons became father, so we cannot be sure that Mirna is a grandmother. However, Mirna was not observed with Meta and Saturn in the same group after they became adults.
Tijana – a female dolphin known from April 1992. First time she became a mother of a female calf (Mare, 12.5.2004. first time seen as a calf) in 2004. Mare became independent in 2006 and got her first calf in 2011. Since then Tijana and Mare inhabit the northern part of Kvarnerić region. We observed mother Tijana, with her new calf (from 2009), and Mare and Mares calf (from 2011) fishing together behind a trawler a quite few times.
Kiselo -got the name after Croatian Kiselo vrhnje which means Sour cream- at the time we were naming our dolphins it was funny to listen our foreign colleagues pronounce it, so we made it memorable! Kiselo was first time observed in July 1990 and has since become our most resident female dolphin. We first saw Kiselo with a calf in 1994, and has since had calves in 1997, 2001, 2004, 2008 and 2014. The calf born in 2008 is one of our most special dolphins. It was born with a deformed dorsal fin in the shape of a small triangle and a roundish tail. Even though we were afraid if it will not survive, today that calf named Jop is an adult and swims with other dolphins without any difficulties. When Kiselo got another calf in 2014, Jop was still observed in the same group with its mother, after which it continued to inhabit Cres-Lošinj archipelago.
Mida – first time seen as an adult dolphin in 1990. He has a highly marked fin which is why it is easily recognisable on the sea. Mida is usually observed in a group with mothers and calves although it is a male dolphin. He is frequently seen with dolphin Sira, known since 1995. If we see one of them out on the sea we instantly look for the other one. In the group with other males, Mida is often showing off and fighting for the dominance among his group members.
Taba – a female dolphin first time seen in 1990 as an adult dolphin. She had two calves, one in 1997 and other one in 2003. Unfortunately, we have not observed them in study area since they became independent. Taba is regularly seen in the northern part of our study area, around Trstenik and Rab Island. She is easy to spot with highly marked dorsal fin.
Riba – a male dolphin seen since 1990 as an adult. His fin is all white and bitten, suggesting that Riba was very active in males fights and social interactions. Today he can be often observed following the trawlers and feeding behind them.
Susan – a female dolphin first time observed in 1990. She had 5 calves, the last one from 2002 is a female named Produzeni, who already had two calves and is one of our resident dolphins. In 2014, we saw Susan again with a new calf, quite far from our study area, in a big group that was socializing in front of cape Kamenjak (Istria).
Phil – was first time seen in 1990. He has his very best friend, male dolphin named Monk. If you see one of them, you can be quite sure that the other on is also present in the group. It has highly marked dorsal fin, so it is easy to spot with a bare eye.
Egon – a male dolphin, regularly seen in our study area since 1990 when he was first spotted as an adult dolphin. It has highly marked dorsal fin with lots of scars and notches on it. He is often observed feeding behind trawlers in the northern part of our study area. On one occasion, while it was feeding on the trawling net, Egon was performing a dive that lasted for almost 10 minutes. Just as we thought we lost it from our sight, his sharp dorsal fin resurfaced informing us he is extremely busy under the sea surface.
Tac – a female dolphin known to us since 1990. She had one calf in 2008, which remained in the study area after it got independent. We named the calf Tic. Tac was last time observed in the northern part of our study area. A characteristically lightning shaped scar in the middle of the dorsal fin was her main recognition mark.