Dolphins, some of the most fascinating sea creatures, the holy animals of Apollo and Poseidon as well as a symbol of friendship and solidarity according to Plutarch, have a special place in our heart. The view of their glimmering bodies while chasing after their food or simply playing with the waves, and their full of affection face will remain etched in your mind forever.
The “mystery” of their physiology
Dolphins are not fish but mammals and they carry their babies for 12 whole months. When born, the little dolphins stay with their mothers for 3 to 6 years. The mother invents a special melody-sign, which the baby memorises and never forgets for the rest of its life! They breathe through their lungs and it is truly amazing how they can “store” enough oxygen allowing them to swim for 20 whole minutes at a depth of 500 meters!
A sound- detecting system in their head allows them to find easily their way around, to spot their food and to communicate. Their brain is as complicated as the human one. According to scientific surveys, dolphins create 3D images in their brain, a sort of ultrasound of even more advanced technology compared to the respective human one.
Dolphins never sleep! They just put to sleep in turn the two hemispheres of their brain so that when the one rests, the other secures breathing. Their hearing and visibility are incredible while their body has a perfect aerodynamic shape. Their role as hunters is crucial for maintaining the balance in the sea ecosystem as they eat the unhealthy fish, thus preventing infectious diseases from spreading.
The man and the dolphin
Common sense, strength, vitality, affection, altruism as well as a great sense of humour are the graces of the dolphins, to which human beings look up the most. The relationship of Greeks with dolphins in particular is as old as time. Homer’s scripts, the Minoan frescos in Crete and Santorini, ancient coins depicting dolphins as well as a plethora of myths and legends highlighting the relationship between human beings, Gods and dolphins are the biggest proof!
In the dolphins’ tracks...
The term “dolphins” is actually misleading, as dolphins are not a single species. Each dolphin species has different characteristics, lives in different places while each one of them has a distinctive personal and sound identity. In Greece inhabit four dolphin species, out of the 32 encountered all over the world: Risso’s dolphin, striped dolphin, bottlenose dolphin and common dolphin. In Greece there is also to observe a unique phenomenon: the Corinthian Gulf is the only place on earth where the striped dolphins mate with Risso’s and common dolphins!
Let’s get acquainted with the dolphins of the Greek seas!
The Risso’s dolphin is the biggest of all and its length can even reach 3, 5 meters. Although its initial colour when born is grey, it tends to obtain over the course of years linear scars all over its body- probably because of the fights it often gets involved in. It can be found in Myrtoo Sea, in Halkidiki, in North Sporades, around Kythera and in some areas in Crete.
The striped dolphin is actually the most common type of dolphin. It owes its name to the characteristic black stripe starting from the eye and ending to the reproductive organs. It is rare to be seen near the coast as it is fond of deep seas! In the Corinthian Gulf you can observe however the smallest striped dolphins on earth! There are also to be found in areas of Northern Sporades and South Crete.
The bottlenose dolphin, a “cosmopolitan” and particularly playful dolphin, is the one that it is mostly possible to be encountered near the shore, at the islands of the Ionian and Aegean Sea, as well as in the Ambracic Gulf, where a small endangered population inhabits.
Despite its name, the common dolphin is not common at all! Its colour is impressive while its hydrodynamic shape allows it to swim very fast, reaching 65 km per hour. You may have a chance of meeting it in the Corinthian Gulf, in the area between Lefkada and Kefallonia, in the Aegean Sea, in the Saronic Gulf, in the Dodecanese, in the Thracian Sea and the Gulf of Euboea.
Protect our friends!
Sadly, dolphins are mostly threatened and put into danger because of human activity. Illegal fishing, hunting for their meat, their illegal use for dolphin shows, the sea pollution and the coastal degradation due to the landfill of ports, fish-cultivations and illegal building, interrupt the balance of coastal ecosystems. Internationally the dolphin population has decreased significantly. In this perspective, non- governmental environmental organisations as well as WWF Hellas take important initiative to protect our charming friends.