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The Mediterranean harbor porpoise

 

Some decades ago the harbour porpoise was considered extinct in the Mediterranean Sea. Since 1997 ten strandings (two live) have been recorded in a limited area of the northern Aegean Sea and particularly in its north-eastern part (Thracian Sea). Six skin samples that were analysed so far for mtDNA showed the relatedness of the Aegean porpoises with the Black Sea population, but do not exclude (and may actually indicate) an isolation from it. In addition, the recorded strandings occurred year round and included all age classes, also indicating that the Aegean harbour porpoises are likely to belong to a very small resident population. The analysis of six more samples is pending.

Since 2007, three more specimens were found stranded (one along the Turkish coasts of the Aegean Sea). These last strandings suggest an expansion of the known range of the subspecies (P. phocoena relicta) further south, at both the west and east coasts of the Aegean Sea.

On March 9th, 2008, one more stranding was recorded in the suburbs of Athens (Vouliagmeni), some 250 nautical miles south of the northern Aegean and Thracian Seas. The reasons behind this sudden appearance of harbour porpoises in southern and warmer seas are still unknown.

The harbour porpoise is rare in the Aegean Sea and both the Aegean and Black Sea sub-populations have been proposed to be listed as "Endangered" by a joint ACCOBAMS-IUCN workshop in 2006.


Cetacean Alliance investigators:

For more information on Mediterranean (and Black Sea) harbor porpoises see:

Frantzis A., Gordon J., Hassidis G., Komnenou A., 2001. The enigma of harbor porpoise presence in the Mediterranean Sea. Marine Mammal Science 17 (4): 937-944. (420 Kb)

Rosel P.E., Frantzis A., Lockyer C., Komnenou A., 2003. The Source of Aegean Sea harbour porpoises. Marine Ecology Progress Series 247: 257-261. (172 Kb)

Frantzis A., Alexiadou P., Paximadis G., Politi E., Gannier A., Corsini-Foka M., 2003. Current knowledge of the cetacean fauna of the Greek Seas. The Journal of Cetacean Research Management. 5(3): 219-232. (1.1 Mb)

Birkun A.Jr., Frantzis A. 2006. Harbour porpoise Phocoena phocoena relicta (Black Sea subspecies). Pp 39-47 in Reeves R., Notarbartolo di Sciara G. (compilers and editors). The status and distribution of cetaceans in the Black Sea and Mediterranean Sea. IUCN Centre for Mediterranean Cooperation, Malaga, Spain. 137 pp. (Whole report 2.4 Mb)

Viaud-Martinnez K.A., Martinnez Vergara M., Gol'din P.E., Ridoux V., Ozturk A.A., Ozturk B., Rosel P.E., Frantzis A., Komnenou A., Bohonak A.J., 2007. Morphological and genetic differentiation of the Black Sea harbour porpoise Phocoena phocoena. Mar. Ecol. Prog. Ser. 338: 281-294. (492 Kb)

Guclusoy H. 2007. The first confirmed report of the harbour porpoise (Phocoena phoceana) in the Turkish Aegean Sea. JMBA2 - Biodiversity Records. 2 pp.
(236 Kb)