This summer, unique whale research vessel Song of the Whale will be leading a new project studying whales and other cetaceans. The research project is supported by Seas at Risk’s member, International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and other partners, and aims to establish cetacean abundance and distribution in the Mediterranean Sea and contiguous Atlantic areas. The collection of up-to-date data on whale populations will allow for swift responses to the threats faced by species in the region.

Song of the Whale credits

The project was officially launched on World Oceans Day, 8 June, with Song of the Whale arriving in the Spanish port of Malaga, where it was hosted by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

This new research project, also known as the 2018 ACCOBAMS Survey Initiative is an international collaborative survey, which aims to better understand the conservation status of cetaceans at the macro-regional level in the Mediterranean/Black Sea, optimise monitoring in the long-term, and improve regional cooperation on protection of marine biodiversity.

Local scientists will participate in the survey, which includes aerial and vessel-based research and uses both visual survey methods and passive acoustic monitoring (PAM). While cetaceans are the primary focus, data will also be collected on marine turtles, swordfish, giant devil rays and marine debris.

Whales face increasingly diverse and complex threats, with some species already endangered and others in continuing population decline as a result of human activities. IFAW is leading the fight to save marine mammals from such threats, through a mix of campaigning, research and rescue operations. Recently, long-time IFAW partner, Dr Alexandros Frantzis, together with IFAW’s marine mammal scientist, Russell Leaper, highlighted the urgent need to reduce the risk of vessel strikes with sperm whales within the Hellenic Trench, Greece. IFAW is providing support to the ACCOBAMS Survey initiative which will allow the Song of the Whale team to survey this high priority area of action, given the need to reduce the risk of vessel strikes.

IFAW and the Song of the Whale team have a long history of involvement in marine mammal conservation, including very early monk seal conservation efforts in Greece in the 1980s and later monk seal research projects in Turkey and Morocco. In 1994, they studied large whales in the Ligurian Sea to support the designation of the Pelagos Sanctuary, and, in 2003, were involved in the first ACCOBAMS partnership project on acoustic research techniques within the Ionian Sea, as part of the planning for that basin-wide survey.

For more than four decades, IFAW has successfully campaigned on whale welfare and conservation issues. Its work includes supporting pioneering benign research projects, driving habitat protection measures, and using international conventions and legal strategies to end commercial whaling. In addition, it has worked to publicise the economic pitfalls of whale hunting and highlight the economic opportunities presented by whale watching. The IFAW also focuses on less well-known issues, such as the threats posed by ship strikes and ocean noise. All of IFAW’s work is based on the best available science, and that is why for this World Oceans Day IFAW decided to celebrate their involvement in the 2018 ACCOBAMS Survey Initiative.