You’ll find it surprising, but eight types of cetacean are regularly present in the Mediterranean Sea. Including four dolphin and four whale species. The most common is the striped dolphin, and the largest is the fin whale at up to 20 metres in length. During the summer months - some dolphins are seen to have pink bellies, as when they play and become hot, expanding blood vessels help them cool down making them look quite rosy! While many dolphins are social, the whales stick more to the open water areas of the Mediterranean. Overfishing, and competition for squid especially is putting pressure on dolphin populations.
The Mediterranean Monk Seal – is extremely rare, and less than 500 individuals can be found in the waters concentrated around Greece, the Med and North Atlantic African coastline. A special marine park has been established for many years around the waters north of Alonnissos in the Sporades group – Monk seals are in the world’s top 20 most endangered animals. Their main threats are encroachment on habitat, and pollution.
Two varieties of Sea Turtle are prevalent in Greece, with their habitat laying solely in the eastern Mediterranean. The Loggerhead is the most common, accompanied by the Green Sea Turtle. Loggerheads nest in Greece, however their Green cousins are more likely to be visiting from further east in the med. Their diets are vastly different, with Loggerheads eating shellfish, while the Green Turtles mostly dining on seaweed and jellyfish. Considering less than 1% of turtles reach sexual maturity – it’s no wonder their populations are under pressure. One of the biggest threats is tourism development on nesting beaches – even the lights of nearby villages can disorient hatchlings normally guided by the moon.
Not that you ever spot them – but there are 47 recorded shark species in the Mediterranean. Sharks mostly spend their time in the deeper areas of the sea, and rarely come within sight of humans. Shark attacks are extremely rare, fatalities even more so. This is put down to traditional food sources being more than sufficient. As fish stocks have reduced due to over-fishing, so have shark numbers. It is estimated their population may have fallen by a staggering 97% in the last two centuries.
The Mediterranean is the world’s most over-fished sea, it is believed that 41% of its marine mammals and 34% of its total fish stocks have been lost in the last half century alone. Management of fish populations is made difficult by the largely small-scale fisheries along an expansive coastline, making monitoring and enforcement of harvests extremely challenging. Diminishing wild-stock is making the juveniles of each species a target amongst an already meager catch, further disrupting regular reproduction patterns and threatening worsening wild population decline.
EU Regulation attempts have only seen a small reduction in the amount of active fishing boats in the Mediterranean. It seems the only life-line for hungry European fish lovers may be Greece’s booming aquaculture sector. Over 1000 seafood farms are present with the main species being gilthead sea-bream, sea-bass as well as plenty of mussels. In recent statistics Greece produced 65 percent of the sea bass and seabream farmed by all EU countries with the majority exported to Italy and Spain. Greek fish farmers are starting to experiment with species such as Atlantic bluefin tuna, and inland fresh water farming has even seen start-up operations in rainbow trout and eel. Alongside tourism, the Greek government sees aquaculture as a major part of the nations recovery on the path to a stable economic future.