Dolphins on the bow! But can you recognize which species they belong to?

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Raise your hand if, while sailing in the Mediterranean, you have never participated in the wonderful spectacle of spotting a dolphin playing with the bow of the boat. Or had the honor of spotting a whale. But, not all cetaceans are the same, you may not know this but there are as many as eight of the most common species inhabiting the Mediterranean Sea. We consulted experts from the Tethys Institute to make you a seasoned “whale watcher.” Here’s how to recognize the cetaceans you spot on our seas. Good luck with your summer sightings!


Common minke whale (Balaenoptera physalus)

With a length that can exceed 20 meters, it is the giant of our seas. It is common in the western and central basins, with a summer concentration in the Ligurian-Corso-Provencal basin where it heads to feed on tiny shrimp.


Sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus)

Up to 18 meters long it is found throughout the Mediterranean basin. It is able to dive without breathing for more than 2 hours reaching a depth of 2,000 m in search of squid, thanks in part to its powerful sonar system.


Striped dolphin (Stenella coeruleoalba)

It is a small dolphin that reaches 2 meters and is the most common cetacean in the Mediterranean, spread from Gibraltar to the Aegean Sea and the Levant basin. It is generally found in large groups and, in summer, its young can often be seen.


Bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)

is the icon of dolphins, the one most photographed for its beauty and meekness. Up to 3 m long. It is the most common cetacean, found near the coast, where it stays in small isolated groups. It is found in most countries throughout the Mediterranean. They are also present offshore.


Grampus dolphin (Grampus griseus)

Difficult to meet, he is the “grumpiest” of the dolphins, often recognized by the numerous white scars all over his body, the result of their “social interactions.” Up to 3.5 m long, it is common throughout the Mediterranean, where it lives mainly in the high seas. The favorite prey is squid.


Globicephalus (Globicephala melas)

Large in size, 5 to 6 m in length, it is found in the western and central Mediterranean. It moves slowly and has a shiny black color; it is only seemingly quiet. In fact, the pilot whale is a great deep-sea hunter; it is nicknamed the cheetah of the deep.


Common dolphin (Delphinus delphis)

Despite its name it is found with increasing rarity due to overfishing and habitat degradation. Up to 2 m long, it is sighted in isolated groups north of Sardinia, in the southern Tyrrhenian Sea, Sicilian Channel, eastern Ionian Sea and northern Aegean Sea. He often mixes with the Starlings.


Zyphus (Ziphius cavirostris)

Up to 6 meters long, widespread throughout the Mediterranean basin but rather rare to encounter. It has colorful pigmentation, a pair of protruding teeth in male specimens, and boasts record-breaking diving skills. It suffers from the noise that appears to be the cause of many mass beachings.

Thanks for photos and directions to the Tethys Research Institute(whalesanddolphins.tethys.org)

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