This protected marine area extends over 87,500 km2, within the Corso-Liguro-Provençal basin. In 1999, France, Italy and Monaco signed the Sanctuary agreements in Rome. The objective of this zone is to protect cetaceans and their habitats against all causes of disturbance: pollution, capture and accidental injuries, disturbances, etc. It is estimated that between 1,000 and 3,000 fin whales, as well as about 25,000 blue and white dolphins, frequent this area in summer.
History of the sanctuary
The idea of the creation of the sanctuary appeared, during the observation of numerous strandings of dolphins on the French and Italian coasts. This phenomenon revealed the importance of the cetacean population, which was unknown to the general public until then. At the end of 1989, SOS Grand Bleu alerted the leaders and scientists of the three countries in order to make them aware of the need to preserve cetaceans. Indeed, whales and dolphins have been protected by French legislation since July 1995 and by that of Monaco since 1993. It is forbidden to destroy them, to capture them, to pursue them. On November 25, 1999, in Rome, France, Monaco and Italy, supported by the other countries bordering the Mediterranean, signed a tripartite international agreement for the creation of a sanctuary for marine mammals. On February 21, 2002, Italy ratified the sanctuary agreement. The various working groups (associations, scientists, local authorities) are finalizing the regulatory texts.
Why this perimeter?
In this area, the presence of cetaceans is very frequent, due to the ecological conditions that make this basin a very productive pelagic area and rich in living forms. Thanks to the Ligurian-Provencal current and the upwelling of deep waters caused by the Tramontana and the Mistral, phytoplankton and krill (small crustaceans) are abundant. Attracted by the abundance of planktonic food, the majority of Mediterranean whales concentrate there, from June to October, to satisfy their food needs.
The coasts of the sanctuary are subject to very heavy urbanization, a source of pollution and multiple nuisances. This vast area is also subject to intense maritime traffic, whether commercial, civil or military, and its biological resources are heavily exploited. These pressures and challenges have led three riparian countries, which share a long maritime history, to join their efforts.
The very term "sanctuary" implies the free adhesion of hearts and minds. Each of those who freely visit this vast space is called to contribute to this protection.
- counting to estimate the status of cetacean populations;
- photo-identification to follow their migration;
- analysis of strandings to assess their cause and implement protective measures;
- estimation of latent threats to their habitat and vital functions such as feeding and reproduction.
National Pelagos Days:
I have just returned from a visit to the PELAGOS national days in Hyères- les-Palmiers (France), on May 7 and 8, 2004. I only went there on the 08th in fact because the 07th was dedicated to the concerned actors and to the "awareness group" of the sanctuary in the Mediterranean.
First of all, the PELAGOS day is the first meeting to set up a management plan for the year 2004. The Sanctuary, set up in 1999 by France, Italy and Monaco, aims to protect marine mammals in the Mediterranean.
The day of May 7, organized by the French side and the National Sanctuary Committee (CNS), brought together government services, professional organizations, local authorities, research teams and NGOs.
The day of May 08 allowed the public to know the last scientific results on the ketology in the perimeter of the Sanctuary.
Below you will find a summary of the different interventions during this day of May 08, 2004:
1) The PELAGOS Sanctuary:
It was presented by Mr. Robert Philippe of the Port-Cros National Park. He explained that an agreement was signed on November 25, 1999 between France, Italy and Monaco for the creation of a sanctuary for marine mammals in the Mediterranean. It came into force on February 21, 2002, covering an area of 87,000 km2. The Ministry of the Environment has entrusted
Port-Cros the responsibility of managing it and protecting cetaceans on the French side. In collaboration with local authorities, transport and fishing professionals, scientific laboratories, associations and NGOs. It was decided to create a guide of good conduct for the observation of cetaceans, to bring together the different parties between Italy and Monaco and to exchange our ideas.
The goal is to define a common approach by all parties in the interest of cetaceans.
2) The diet of cetaceans in the Mediterranean :
Miss Guillelme Astruc of the EPHE (Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes) presented her work on the scale of the Corso - Liguro - Provençal basin. She revealed that little work has been done on this subject. The aim was to collect all the information of the whole Mediterranean basin and the Black Sea. Stomach analysis of cetaceans is always carried out during strandings or trapped in nets. The undigested parts (mandibles, vertebrae, etc.) allowed to prove four feeding trends concerning eight cetaceans:
- the fin whale consumes exclusively plankton (Meganyctiphanes norvegica)
- three species of teutophagous: sperm whale, Risso's dolphin and Ziphius
- only one species of teutophagous: pilot whale
- preferably fish-eating for bottlenose dolphins and common dolphins and teutophagous for blue and white dolphins
3) The French Thonaille Fishery:
Mr. Bozonnat explained that the French tuna fleet targets bluefin tuna in the Pelagos sanctuary. A charter of good conduct for fishermen has been established, which unfortunately does not concern the large factory ships. The danger comes at the end of the summer when young dolphins are born. The fishermen have captured about 350 dolphins in their nets.
4) Bottlenose dolphin - Tursiops truncatus - on the Corsican coasts:
The GECEM has been counting all bottlenose dolphins along the Corsican coast since 1993. The population has been estimated between 198 and 242 individuals. Thanks to photo-identification, movements have been observed between Corsica and the mainland and the fidelity to their site by the females, known for 10 years.
5) Synthesis of four years of "Cap Ligure":
Since 1999, Mr. Ody and the WWF, helped by the "Fondation Nature et Découverte", wished to develop the "Pelagos" sanctuary and identify the bottlenose dolphins of the French and Corsican coasts. They identified between 424 and 515 individuals and are very interested in the migration of fin whales during winter.
6) Whales and ferries in the sanctuary:
Presented by the Captain Mr. Capoulade of the Société Nationale Maritime Corse Méditerranée (SNCM). The topics discussed included the history of collisions, the different scientific partnerships, collision prevention and awareness actions.
7) Visual Detectability of Large Cetaceans onboard High Speed Vessels (HSV) to Limit the Risk of Collision:
The scientific community suspects these collisions as the main cause of mortality. For this reason, an efficient detection protocol was proposed by Mr. Mayol and the EPHE of Montpellier to all the vessels of the company. There were 8 collisions between 1990 and 2003. Mostly at night.
8) Seasonal variation of cetacean population in the sanctuary:
Ms. Laran explained that the risso dolphin (Grampus Griseus) frequents the area year round while the short-finned pilot whale (Globicephala melas) is present from summer to early fall. The blue and white dolphin (Stenella coeruleoalba) is very present between September and October. For the fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus), the peak is between July and August.
9 ) Sensory systems in Odontocetes: adaptation to marine life
Mrs. Maggiani of the University of Cagliari collaborated with the University of Corte for the sensory study of Odontocetes.
10) Role and interest of the Mediterranean Grounding Network :
Since 1972, strandings have been recorded (about 1500) on the French coast. A collaboration has been established between GECEM and the Centre de Recherche sur les Mammifères Marins de la Rochelle. It allows to recognize rare species and to bring a precious source of biological data (genetics, reproduction, parasitology, monthly and geographical distribution, ).
11) Distribution and critical habitat of sperm whales in the Mediterranean north - west Mediterranean :
In summer the sperm whale population is divided in two: on the one hand there is the maternal group, located south of the 41° parallel towards the Balearic Islands and on the other hand a group located off Provence and Liguria.
(Thanks to the NGO S.O.S Big Blue).