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Extent of whale and dolphin watching 

Whale watching in Italy was initially developed mainly in the Ligurian Sea between the French and Italian coast. In the summer months, this area serves as a feeding ground for fin whales and hosts the full range of cetacean species which are known to regularly occur in the Mediterranean Sea. In 1999 as a result of research demonstrating high densities of cetacean species, the Pelagos Sanctuary was established as a trans-boundary marine protected area, by Italy, France and Monaco. The sanctuary became a driving force for the development of research and whale watching activities, with several whale watching companies now operating in the area. 

Target species, peak times of year and locations

While the Pelagos Sanctuary is perhaps best known for its resident population of fin whales, many other species are also present, either seasonally or year-round. These range from resident coastal populations of bottlenose dolphins to deep-diving species like Risso’s dolphins and sperm whales.

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Species

Province/region

Towns or harbours

Platform (motorized boat, swim-with, aerial)

Peak time of year to observe

Fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus)

Pelagos Sanctuary, Sardinia

Bordighera, Sanremo, Imperia, Andora, Laigueglia, Loano, Alassio, Savona, Varazze, Arenzano,  Genova, Nervi, Recco, Camogli, Poltu Quatu

Big motorized boat, sailing boat

Summer - May to August

Sperm whale (Physeter microcephalus)

Pelagos Sanctuary, Sardinia, Campania Archipelago, Pontino Archipelago

Bordighera, Sanremo, Imperia, Andora, Laigueglia, Loano, Alassio, Savona, Varazze, Arenzano,  Genova, Nervi, Recco, Camogli, Poltu Quatu, Ischia, Naples

Big motorized boat, sailing boat

Summer - May to October

Common bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)

Pelagos Sanctuary, Tuscany archipelagos, Sardinia, Roman coast, Campania Archipelago, Pontino Archipelago

Bordighera, Sanremo, Imperia, Andora, Laigueglia, Loano, Alassio, Savona, Varazze, Arenzano,  Genova, Nervi, Recco, Camogli, Portovenere, La Spezia, Livorno Viareggio, Lucca, Arzachena, Stintino, Poltu Quatu, Ischia, Naples

Big motorized boat, sailing boat

Year round

Striped dolphin (Stenella coeruleoalba)

Pelagos Sanctuary, Tuscany archipelagos, Sardinia, Campania Archipelago, Pontino Archipelago

Bordighera, Sanremo, Imperia, Andora, Laigueglia, Loano, Alassio, Savona, Varazze, Arenzano,  Genova, Nervi, Recco, Camogli, Poltu Quatu, Ischia, Naples

Big motorized boat, sailing boat

Year round

Risso’s dolphin (Grampus griseus)

Pelagos Sanctuary, Sardinia, Campania Archipelago, Pontino Archipelago

Bordighera, Sanremo, Imperia, Andora, Laigueglia, Loano, Alassio, Savona, Varazze, Arenzano,  Genova, Nervi, Recco, Camogli, Poltu Quatu, Ischia, Naples

Big motorized boat, sailing boat

Summer - May to October

Long-finned pilot whales (Globicephala melas)

Pelagos Sanctuary, Sardinia

Bordighera, Sanremo, Imperia, Andora, Laigueglia, Loano, Alassio, Savona, Varazze, Arenzano,  Genova, Nervi, Recco, Camogli, Poltu Quatu

Big motorized boat, sailing boat

Summer - May to October

Cuvier’s beaked whale (Ziphius cavirostris)

Pelagos Sanctuary, Sardinia

Bordighera, Sanremo, Imperia, Andora, Laigueglia, Loano, Alassio, Savona, Varazze, Arenzano,  Genova, Nervi, Recco, Camogli, Poltu Quatu

Big motorized boat, sailing boat

Summer - May to October

Short-beaked common dolphin (Delphinus delphis)

Pelagos Sanctuary, Sardinia, Campania Archipelago, Pontino Archipelago

Bordighera, Sanremo, Imperia, Andora, Laigueglia, Loano, Alassio, Savona, Varazze, Arenzano,  Genova, Nervi, Recco, Camogli, Poltu Quatu, Ischia, Naples

Big motorized boat, sailing boat

Summer - May to October

 

Additional information about some whale watching and citizen science opportunities in Italy can be found on the following websites:

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Regulations and guidelines

In Italian waters, whale watching is regulated through voluntary codes of conduct.  These include the code of conducts issued by ACCOBAMS through their high quality whale watching certification programme as well as those promoted in the Pelagos Sanctuary.

The Pelagos code of conduct specifies how vessels should approach animals in the ‘area of vigilance (300 m from the animal or group of animals), the sector in which the disturbance caused by the vessel (presence, noise and exhaust fumes) is strongly felt by the animals. When you enter the area the code specifies the following rules to limit this disturbance:

  • the boat’s speed must be constant and attuned to the speed of the slowest animal. It must not be more than 5 knots;
  • any approach must be made according to a trajectory that gradually draws parallel to the animal’s path (green arrow in the pie chart). The boat thus positions itself alongside the cetaceans, moving in the same direction;
  • any sudden change of speed or direction is forbidden;
  • to mitigate acoustic disturbance, sounders and sonar must be switched off;
  • be even more careful, and limit your distance of approach if you remark the presence of new-born animals;
  • you must immediately leave the area of vigilance if the animals are disturbed: for example, flight behaviour (acceleration, changing direction, trying to get away from the observer) must be considered as a sign of disturbance;
  • observation time is limited to half an hour;
  • if many boats are present, only one is tolerated within the area of vigilance, and observation time is shortened to a quarter of an hour and the other boats have to wait patiently 300 m away. Radio contact between the various boats will enable the watching to be coordinated;
  • when the observation is over, the boat must gradually leave the site, taking a path that clearly signals that it is leaving. The speed will remain moderate for a distance that is sufficient to avoid the risk of collision.

The second area on the diagram is the forbidden (red) area within 100m of the animal(s), which vessels  must never enter (except when the cetaceans approach the boat of their own accord). The regulations also specify that vessels must:

  • Not enter the sector in front of the animals (reduced field of vision).
  • Neither must it approach them from behind, since the boat may then be seen as a pursuer.
  • When the boat reaches the outside limit of the forbidden area, its relative speed must be reduced to zero and its engine put into neutral gear.
  • It is forbidden to enter or divide groups of cetaceans with the vessel, as this will cause social disturbance.

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