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How many dolphins live in the Black Sea? Results of the research


The ACCOBAMS Survey Initiative (ASI) the first marine megafauna monitoring campaigns ever carried out at the scale of the Mediterranean Sea and of the Black Sea. After two years of intensive in-depth analysis of collected data, the reports of the results are now available for dissemination, for the best and widest possible use at the service of the conservation of the marine environment. 


The waters of the Black and Azov Seas are home to three species of dolphins – bottlenose dolphin, the white-sided dolphin and Mereswine (sea pig). In the twentieth century, industrial fishing reduced them by at least five times. Today they are protected by the Red Book of Ukraine and international conventions.

Common bottlenose dolphins are found throughout the world in both offshore and coastal waters, including harbours, bays, gulfs, and estuaries of temperate and tropical waters (estuaries are the areas where rivers meet the sea). They are one of the most studied and well-known marine mammals in the wild.

White-sided dolphins, known for the distinct coloring that give them their name, are a playful and highly social marine mammal. They are also sometimes known as the “hookfin porpoise” because of their large, curved dorsal fin, though they are not technically porpoises.

For the first time in the history of science in the Black and Mediterranean Seas, the number and distribution of dolphins were studied simultaneously. For two years, 100 scientists, 10 aircraft and 6 ships surveyed the Black Sea-Mediterranean area. Scientists have explored 60% of the Black Sea and 77% of the Mediterranean.

White-sided dolphin

And here are the results!

More than 600,000 dolphins live in the Mediterranean. In Black Sea – at least 253 thousand. Including:

  • 119,000 common dolphins, or white-sided dolphins;
  • 94,000 mereswine are the smallest cetaceans. After corrections for visibility (they are the most difficult to see), the final figure can almost triple;
  • 42,000 bottlenose dolphins. Bottlenose dolphins proved to be the most vulnerable due to their lifestyle. After all, they usually live in small groups, grow slowly, give birth to cubs only once every two or three years, and therefore their numbers recover slowly.

The results of the survey allow us to draw a preliminary, very comforting conclusion that the state of Black Sea cetacean populations has not deteriorated over the past 20 years.

Bottlenose dolphins

The results of the survey will be used for:

  • assessment of the state of cetacean populations of the Black Sea;
  • updating the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and the Red Book of Ukraine;
  • planning measures for the protection of dolphins;
  • creation of marine protected areas.

This information improves our understanding of the state of the Black Sea ecosystem, because dolphins are indicators of its ecological status.

More than a hundred scientists from different countries have been counting cetaceans in the Black and Mediterranean Seas with the help of six ships and ten aircraft.

Ukraine in the team of researchers was represented by scientists from the Ukrainian Scientific Center for Marine Ecology and the Institute of Zoology named after I. I. I. Shmalgauzen, National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine with the support of the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources and the EU project “Strengthening Environmental Monitoring of the Black Sea” (EMBLAS Plus).