The Wildlife of the Istanbul Strait – Dolphins and Porpoises

WWF Turkey and DMAD’s important new project


WWF-Turkey and DMAD conducted their first seasonal survey effort on the 4th of January 2020 in the Istanbul Strait after a break of almost 5 years. The survey also covered the neighbouring water of the Marmara and Black Seas in addition to the strait itself with the aim of further developing the photo-identification catalogue of bottlenose dolphins which will eventually reveale the movement and residency patterns as well as the population size of this ‘At Risk’ species. 
The Istanbul Strait is known as a biological corridor both for top predators and their prey. Its sustainable management means the well-being of not only the strait itself but also the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea. Its vulnerable habitat is under heavy human pressure from marine traffic to pollution. Daily marine traffic in the Strait reaches up to 2500 vessels and the marine pollution leaves no clean zones for either marine animals or humans. The same habitat is also under a more recent threat of an ignorant project called “Channel Istanbul” which aims to create a man-made channel  (effectively a second Istanbul Strait) which will have irreversible consequences for all local marine and terrestrial fauna and flora by draining the Black Sea, introducing invasive species and increasing pollution rates within the Aegean Sea. As a team of researchers, we have one and only one goal in mind; to protect our home and its inhabitants! For this purpose, our dedicated survey in the Istanbul Strait has been launched!

Survey Day

Within the first two hours of the survey, the team came across three different groups of bottlenose dolphins, including some juveniles. This was not an uncommon sighting for this area and the groups stayed near the boat for approximately 40 minutes in total. The team collected behavioural data and photos to update a photo identification catalogue that has been added to for 10 years. As we travelled north, we encountered another pod of bottlenose dolphins, as well as endangered harbour porpoise. As we returned South, we encountered another large pod of bottlenose dolphins. Therefore, in only 8 hours, we encountered over 8 groups of cetaceans with new-borns and juvenilles within the group, a hotspot which we are all – from the public to the authorities – duty bound to protect.

The Istanbul Strait also offers a perfect spot to observe, enjoy and support wildlife observations. Dolphin parks, on the other hand subject dolphins to a lifetime of misery. Just a few of the many misfortunes they encounter include:

  • Tanks too shallow for dolphins to properly dive in which means that they cannot avoid the midday sun and often get sunburn and blistering on their backs.
  • Tanks which are far too small can lead to depression and self-harming behaviours. Dolphins can swim up to a hundred kilometres in a day yet are normally kept in tanks which are only tens of metres wide. This can lead to behaviours rarely experienced in the wild such as deliberate beaching and gnawing on walls and gates. The repeated banging of the head against walls has been documented in orcas. Alongside this dolphins are subject to outbursts of aggression from tank mates who are frustrated.
  • Food deprivation. Dolphins are kept hungry in order to teach them to learn new unnatural behaviours or participate in ‘swim-with’ activities. Labelled by the industry as ‘positive reinforcement’ or ‘operant conditioning’, this practice is the only way to get dolphins to accustomed to human intreractions and to learn tricks for human enjoyment.
  • Unsuitable matching. Dolphins are regularly paired in groups with dolphins which were captured far away from one another leading them to not be able to communicate with one another and raising stress levels
  • Tanks with poor quality water. Some tanks have very poor water quality which are not treated properly due to litter thrown into the tanks by crowds and bacterial infections. This leads to visible sores and lesions on the dolphins. Some parks combat this by adding lots of chlorine to the tanks. At best this causes severe irritation to the eyes and at worst it can cause permanent sighting impairment. 
So grabs some binoculars and make the most of the fantastic wildlife that can be seen in its natural environment and keep your eyes peeled for another article on the horror of dolphin parks.

To keep up-to-date with our research, surveys and much more follow us on facebook and instagram! If you are interested in joining any of our surveys in the future we’d love to hear from you! Drop us an email us at: [email protected]