Diving into the world of Greece's native sperm whales

Jun 11, 2014 Full story: EKathimerini

The underground space of the Hub venue in the central Athenian neighborhood of Kato Petralona was packed with people.

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SpaceBlues

Houston, TX

#1 Jun 17, 2014
“It seems unreal. It’s difficult to convey the feeling right now, but it’s kind of like leaving this room and running into a dinosaur,” said Frantzis, sending a wave of laughter through the audience. As his research continued, the scientists made another startling discovery: that in contrast to regular nomadic sperm whale populations around the rest of the world, Greece’s population of some 200 individuals, and especially the females, stayed put.

The experience of an eco-volunteer, who, like literature’s Captain Ahab (though with no predatory instincts), watches the endless sea for signs of a whale expelling air through its blowhole as it comes up for air, is almost impossible to describe in words. The speaker, however, wanted to describe to the audience what makes this particular marine mammal such a fascinating subject of study.

He explained, for example, how the sperm whale is one of the “most talkative” marine animals, has the biggest brain and is the best diver. Indeed, it can dive to a depth of 2,000 meters, a completely inhospitable environment, on one breath, and remain there for as long as two hours.

Frantzis also described the whales’ social structures and how there is a sense of solidarity between different families, or pods, which consist of females (the males are solitary), and especially when it comes to caring for the young.

Despite a global ban on whaling, the sperm whale has been described by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as a “vulnerable” species. Frantzis added that unless measures are implemented soon to protect them, the whales may disappear altogether from the Eastern Mediterranean.

“Sixty-one percent of sperm whales that wash up dead on Greek beaches bear injuries from propellers of large ships,” said Frantzis, adding that sound pollution constitutes another serious threat to the local population.

“There is the dynamite used [illegally] by fishermen, military exercises using sonar and hydrocarbon exploration,” he said.

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