Lampedusa IMMA

Area Size

17 527 km2

Qualifying Species and Criteria

Fin whale – Balaenoptera physalus

Criterion A; C (2)

Common bottlenose dolphin – Tursiops truncatus

Criterion A; B (1); C (1, 2);

Marine Mammal Diversity 

Delphinus delphis, Stenella coeruleoalba

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Significant ecological and biological components coexist in a relatively limited area between the island of Lampedusa and the Tunisian coast, considered a biodiversity hotspot within the Mediterranean. Vulnerable Mediterranean fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus) are known to congregate in late February and early March in the coastal waters of the island, in the middle of the Strait of Sicily, to feed on the euphausiid Nyctiphanes couchii. In addition, Vulnerable Mediterranean common bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) have a regular presence around the coastal waters of Lampedusa Island, exhibiting strong site fidelity; they use the area for their complete life cycle, including feeding and reproduction. These dolphins manifest a strong interaction with local fishing gear, particularly bottom trawlers.

Description of Qualifying Criteria

Criterion A – Species or Population Vulnerability

The resident and genetically isolated population of Mediterranean fin whales, presumed to number at most in the low thousands (and possibly in decline), is subject to several threats including ship strikes, disturbance, noise and chemical contaminants with several potential negative effects at the population level. The Mediterranean subpopulation has been listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species according to the following considerations; the Mediterranean subpopulation, which is genetically distinct from fin whales in the Atlantic; contains fewer than 10,000 mature individuals; the subpopulation experiences an inferred continuing decline in number of mature individuals; all mature individuals are in one subpopulation.

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species classified the Mediterranean subpopulation of common bottlenose dolphins as Vulnerable, based on a suspected population decline of at least 30% over the last 60 years. The bottlenose dolphin is listed in the Appendix II (Mediterranean population) of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), in the Appendix II (Strictly Protected Fauna Species) of the Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (Bern Convention), and in the Annexes II and IV of the EU Habitats Directive (Council Directive 92/43/EEC).

Criterion B: Distribution and Abundance

Sub-criterion B1: Small and Resident Populations

Photo-identification research studies clearly describe that bottlenose dolphin groups are regularly present along the Lampedusa coast, and that the distribution of sightings clearly show a number of individual dolphins regularly utilizing the study area. The most reliable population estimate, from 1998, was of 115 (93–163) animals. No other population estimates with similar precision are available but continued work proves the regular presence of the species in the area.

Criterion C: Key Life Cycle Activities

Sub-criterion C1: Reproductive Areas

Continuous or regular presence of Mediterranean common bottlenose dolphins, as well as a high ratio of immature animals in respect to adults, are observed all year round. Social and reproductive activities are regularly observed and validate previous suggestions that this bottlenose dolphin population regularly uses this area for mating and calving. Each age class are encountered during almost all years and months of study. Parturition has never been observed, although it likely occurs given the observations of extremely small individuals (classified as newborn) showing foetal folds on the flanks and lacking basic motor-coordination skills. The relative frequency of occurrence of groups containing immature animals (in relation to all groups) do not appear to vary annually.

Sub-criterion C2: Feeding Areas

This is the only known winter feeding ground in the southern part of the Mediterranean for fin whales, validated by direct observations of whales actively engaged in surface feeding. Telemetry analysis have also confirmed the feeding behaviour of fin whales in the area. Marine mammals exposed to high noise levels have shown different behavioural responses, such as interrupting feeding, altering vocalizations, or leaving important habitat; in consideration that the Strait of Sicily is amongst the main areas in the Mediterranean Sea with the highest naval traffic, so potential negative effects on feeding fin whales should be further assessed and evaluated.

Common bottlenose dolphin focal group follows conducted in the area have allowed the frequent observation of dolphin groups actively feeding at the surface on schooling fish and cephalopods (sometimes thrown up in the air by dolphins). In addition, dolphin groups frequently associate with bottom trawlers. In Lampedusa, bottlenose dolphins show preference for shallow feeding grounds, as they often host complex and rich food webs. These dolphins seem to spend as much time as possible close to those areas, as it increases their likelihood of finding preferential (demersal) prey. Site-specific geomorphological factors combined with the geographical segregation of Lampedusa from the rest of the continental shelf waters may provide a plausible explanation. Furthermore, the strong association of bottlenose dolphins with trawls showed that these feeding patterns may be beneficial in that they reduce time required to forage and provides the animals with an easier method to obtain food.

Supporting Information

Bearzi, G., Fortuna, C. & Reeves, R. 2012. Tursiops truncatus (Mediterranean subpopulation). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2012:

Canese, S., Cardinali, A., Fortuna, C.M., Giusti, M., Lauriano, G., Salvati, E., Greco, S., 2006. The first identified winter feeding ground of fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus) in the Mediterranean Sea. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the UK 86, 903.

Gomez, C., Lawson, J.W., Wright, A.J., Buren, A.D., Tollit, D., Lesage V. 2016. A systematic review on the behavioural responses of wild marine mammals to noise: the disparity between science and policy. Canadian Journal of Zoology, 94(12): 801-819. 10.1139/cjz-2016-0098

La Manna, G., Ronchetti, F., Sarà, G. 2016. Predicting common bottlenose dolphin habitat preference to dynamically adapt management measures from a Marine Spatial Planning perspective. Ocean and Coastal Management 130:317-327. doi:10.1016/j.ocecoaman.2016.07.004

Notarbartolo di Sciara, G., Castellote, M., Druon, J.N., Panigada, S. 2016. Fin whales: at home in a changing Mediterranean Sea? Advances in Marine Biology Series.

Notarbartolo di Sciara, G., Zanardelli, M., Jahoda, M., Panigada, S., Airoldi, S. 2003. The Fin whale Balaenoptera physalus (L. 1758), in the Mediterranean Sea. Mammal Review. 33(2):105-150.

Pace, D.S., Pulcini, M., Triossi, F. 1999. Tursiops truncatus population at Lampedusa Island (Italy): preliminary results European Research on Cetaceans 12: 165-169.

Pace, D.S., Pulcini, M., Triossi, F. 2003. Interactions with fisheries: modalities of opportunistic feeding for bottlenose dolphins at Lampedusa Island. European Research on Cetaceans 17: 132-135.

Pace, D.S., Pulcini, M., Triossi, F. 2011. Influence of anthropogenic food patches on the association patterns of bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) at Lampedusa Island, Italy. Behavioural Ecology 23(2): 254-264.

Panigada, S., Donovan, G.P., Druon, J-N., Lauriano, G., Pierantonio, N., Pirotta, E., Zanardelli, M., Zerbini, A.N., Notarbartolo di Sciara, G. 2017. Satellite tagging of Mediterranean fin whales: working towards the identification of critical habitats and the focusing of mitigation measures. Scientific Reports.

Panigada, S., Notarbartolo di Sciara, G. 2012. Fin whale Balaenoptera physalus (Mediterranean subpopulation). IUCN (2012). Marine Mammals and Sea Turtles of the Mediterranean and Black Seas. Gland, Switzerland and Malaga, Spain: IUCN. 32 pages.

Pulcini, M., Triossi, F., Pace D.S. 2004. Distribution, habitat use and behavior of bottlenose dolphin at Lampedusa Island: results of five-years survey. Annual Conference of the European Cetacean Society (ECS), Rome, May 6-10, 2001. European Research on Cetaceans 15: 453-456.

Pulcini, M., Pace, D.S., Triossi, F., La Manna, G., Galante, I., Fortuna, MC. 2013. Distribution and abundance estimates of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) around Lampedusa Island (Sicily Channel, Italy)- implications for their management. Journal of the Marine Biological Association – JMBA, 1-10. DOI: 10.1017/S0025315413000842

Vaes, T. and Druon, J.-N. Mapping of potential risk of ship strike with fin whales in the Western Mediterranean Sea. A scientific and technical review using the potential habitat of fin whales and the effective vessel density. (European Commission Joint Research Centre Institute for the Protection and Security of the Citizen).


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