Song of the Whale arrives in Monaco

Song of the Whale arrives in Monaco, at the halfway point in summer research project in the Mediterranean

ACCOBAMS whale research vessel

R/V Song of the Whale, the unique non-invasive whale research vessel, and team are playing a key role in the first comprehensive survey of the whole Mediterranean Sea for whales and dolphins, the Accobams Survey Initiative, underway in the Mediterranean Sea this summer. Following the project’s official launch in Malaga on World Ocean’s Day, 8th June, Song of the Whale has completed two further survey legs, and the team have just moored at their next port stop - Monaco.

Although the second smallest country in the world, the Principality of Monaco is a major player with significant influence in terms of marine conservation internationally. In addition to its very famous Oceanographic Museum, founded by the current Prince’s great great grandfather, it hosts the ACCOBAMS Permanent Secretariat. It is also home to the renowned Yacht Club de Monaco, where R/V Song the Whale will be berthed for this short visit and events, in a beautiful, influential and glamorous setting.

Two Rissos dolphin calves race alongside Song of the WhaleThe Mediterranean and Black Seas are home to 12 regularly reported species of whales and dolphins. Human pressures on these semi-enclosed seas are intense; over 30% of the world’s maritime traffic crosses the Mediterranean, and fishing activities and pollution pose additional threats to the cetaceans that live there. The Accobams Survey Initiative aims to optimise cetacean monitoring efforts in the long term, build capacity for scientists and national experts in the region, and ultimately improve regional cooperation to support international commitments to protect the marine biodiversity of the ACCOBAMS Agreement area.

During the summer, R/V Song of the Whale and team are hosting numerous international participants and scientists on board from coastal states; so far individuals have joined from Morocco, Algeria, Montenegro, Spain, France and Israel. Participants from Tunisia and Turkey arrived in Monaco, to take part in the search of the Mediterranean from west to east, documenting the presence and distribution of whales and dolphins, and other marine species, as well as marine litter. This comprehensive ‘snap-shot’ cetacean survey, the first ever in the Mediterranean Sea, will generate estimates of abundance and describe the distribution of all cetacean species found in the Mediterranean. It is being carried out using combined at sea (vessels) and aerial (aircraft) based approach, between May and August 2018.

RV Song of the Whale berthed alongside at the Yacht Club de MonacoThe role on Song of the Whale is to focus on areas not covered by the aerial surveys, but also to conduct additional survey effort ‘on the ground’ with a particular interest in deep-diving species. These whales, including beaked whales and sperm whales, spend the majority of their time at depth, thereby evading detection by visual surveys alone. The most effective way to locate these species is by passive acoustic monitoring – in this case, by towing a hydrophone array (series of underwater microphones) back and forth along the survey track lines.

In addition to data on cetaceans and other megafauna (including sunfish and turtles), we are gathering data on the presence of marine debris, both afloat and within the water column. Surface densities of small plastic particles are being measured using a special sampling device called a manta trawl which we are using in partnership with 5 Gyres. So far, many of the samples are rich in small plastic particles.

Having already surveyed the waters around the Straits of Gibraltar, off Morocco and Algeria, and then west from Sardinia through Spanish and French waters, the team have documented a range of species, from huge fin whales, deep diving sperm whales, elusive Cuvier’s beaked whales, large pods of pilot whales and numerous dolphins during the 10,000 km or so of track line surveyed so far.

During the two-day stop in Monaco, there will be visits to Song of the Whale by schoolchildren, and a reception at which initial results from the aerial and vessel surveys will be presented to Government representatives and other influential guests, and the press. On departure from Monaco, Song of the Whale will head south through the Pelagos Sanctuary (the first ever High Seas marine mammal sanctuary) and Tyrrhenian Sea between Corsica and Italy, towards Tunisia, Sicily and then onto Greece, where the final survey leg for the Song of the Whale team will cover the Hellenic Trench (link to previous blog), a high risk area for sperm whales and ship strikes.  

Check in for the next update from Song of the Whale in August, when the team are searching for sperm whales and beaked whales in the busy waters off Greece - supporting IFAW’s efforts working with Greek partners and the Government to reduce the risk of ship strikes on endangered sperm whale.  

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Brian Sharp, Emergency Relief Officer, Stranding Coordinator
Manager, Marine Mammal Rescue and Research
Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation
Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation Program
Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
Director, International Policy
Patrick Ramage, Program Director, Whales
Program Director, Marine Conservation