Observing dolphins in the Cyclades

Exciting news! Our partner MOm, with our support (CPF grant: Cyclades care for dolphins), is attempting to collect data on cetacean sightings, thoroughly and for the first time focusing on the Cyclades! We hope that  the guide will help you identify them and distinguish among the species when you meet them during your marine travels which will (thankfully) soon become a reality again after the hardships of the quarantine.

At this point in our Greek Cetaceans series, we would like to reiterate certain points relating to species identification and to highlight some key differences among them. The species presented thus far are those people are most likely to encounter but are also the ones most easily confused. Size can easily be miscalculated at sea and colouration might be misleading underwater. Thankfully, there are some simple key characteristics, which can be observed to tell them apart with certainty, even if we only get a quick glimpse of the animals’ body above the water surface.

Common dolphin: Its main distinguishing characteristic is its iconic side “hourglass” colouration of yellow/light grey in the front and dirty grey in the back meeting in the middle. If we only see the dorsal fin above the water, most common dolphins have a yellowish white patch on it that is unique to the species. It is often confused with the striped dolphin because of their similar size.

Striped dolphin: If we get a look at the side of the animal, the two black stripes render it very distinguishable. A characteristic that can help with identifying striped dolphins at a distance is the light grey or white “paintbrush stroke” starting above the eye, turning gracefully upwards, entering the grey area and “pointing” towards the dorsal fin. This is usually visible over the water surface when they come out to breathe. Bottlenose dolphins may have a similar pattern but in their case it is darker coloured and almost matches the surrounding body colour and isn’t as striking. Striped dolphins are also usually found in larger groups.

Bottlenose dolphin: Its larger size is quite noticeable – and impressive – when seen up close. At a distance, when a size estimate is not achievable, its lack of a distinctive colouration is defining characteristic. Its monochrome grey body with a darker grey back becoming lighter towards the side without any stark contrasts will help us identify it. Older animals may have a heavily scarred dorsal fin tip which appears white at a distance. It may be confused with Risso’s dolphin because of their similarly large size.

Risso’s dolphin: Their most striking difference from other dolphins in Greece is the lack of a protruding beak. Instead, they have a rounded head. Their dorsal fin is distinctively long and sickle-shaped and is easily noticeable even by inexperienced observers. Even though their grey colouration and size make them very similar to the bottlenose dolphin, their – in most cases – unusually heavily scarred head and body with linear marks are a giveaway at a distance.

In any case, managing to get the animals on video will allow you to go through the encounter again and potentially spot characteristics you missed or even reveal behaviors that you were too enthralled at the time to observe!

Please send your audio-visual material to info@mom.gr !