Teachers Guide - Disappearing Dolphins

Documentary Overview "Disappearing Dolphins" is the fourth in a five-part series - "Whales of the Mediterranean Sea". Two neighboring coastal dolphin habitats in western Greece show a remarkable difference in the status of the populations they support. Amvrakikos Gulf offers abundant prey resources allowing the local bottlenose dolphin population to thrive. However, only 30 kilometers away, around the island of Kalamos, over fishing has resulted in prey depletion and ecosystem collapse. Consequently, only a handful of endangered short-beaked common dolphins remain today.

We meet scientists, educators and local fishermen to discuss their relationship with dolphins, and the state of sea around their community. Could what is happening to the common dolphins of Kalamos, also explain why they are disappearing throughout the Mediterranean Sea?

The Program -

  • Takes the audience to neighboring coastal dolphin habitats in western Greece, to view bottlenose dolphins and short-beaked common dolphins.
  • Introduces scientists Giovanni Bearzi, PhD, and associate researcher Joan Gonzalvo, who are studying the two species of coastal dolphins, and the health of their respective ecosystems.
  • Explains the distribution and conservation status of each species, and how their health is intrinsically connected to the management of fisheries practices in their respective habitats.
  • Discovers the impact of an unsustainable commercial fishery around the Island of Kalamos on fish stocks, including the prey species of common dolphins.
  • Introduces local fishers who describe what the decline of fish stocks and common dolphins means to their local communities.
  • Explores scientific data in detail that documents the decline of common dolphins, and the specific causes.
  • Discusses what it means to be loosing dolphin populations.
  • Offers workable, management solutions to benefit ecosystems and local communities
  • Expresses the concern of local fishermen, who, along with scientists are calling for the implementation of effective management measures.
  • Discusses the role and value of education in the local community, and to wider audiences.
  • Expresses the need for cooperation and community support for management and enforcement to be effective.

Viewing Ideas -

Before Viewing:

  1. Explain to students that common dolphins were originally named because of their relative abundance. In a few short years, their population in the Mediterranean Sea has rapidly declined due to human pressures on their marine habitat. These include, over fishing, entanglements and pollution.
  2. Divide students into groups and advise them to take notes throughout the video, paying specific attention to the following points and themes:
    • The main difference between the ecosystems in Amvrakikos Gulf and Kalamos
    • The types of fisheries creating pressure in the region.
    • Scientific research around Kalamos, and the cause of the common dolphins decline
    • Is there enough data to show what needs to be done?
    • How do local fishermen feel about fisheries management?

After Viewing:

  1. Begin by giving students time to discuss and compare their notes.
  2. Class discussion. Ask students how they feel about the possibility of loosing a unique dolphin species in Kalamos, and possibly the wider Mediterranean?
    • Who is responsible for protecting the dolphins?
    • Could what is happening in Kalamos happen in other parts of the world?
    • Are scientific findings alone, enough to create a protected area?
    • Should certain areas have a line drawn around them and be closed to fisheries altogether?
    • What role does the government play?
    • What role do consumers play?
    • Is it important for the local community to support any introduced management measures?
    • Can fisheries and dolphins co-exist?
    • Apart from sustainable fisheries, what additional benefits do local communities derive from a healthy functioning marine ecosystem?

Classroom Activity -


Students utilize information gathered from "Disappearing Dolphins", in class discussion and from the Internet, to investigate the effects of over fishing on ecosystems and the need to transfer sound science into regulation and management that is valued by the local community.




  1. Understanding cetaceans and their habitat helps scientists and policy makers organize research and conservation programs. Sometimes conservation efforts conflict with livelihoods, job security and the economic pursuits of governments. In this activity, students are to consider the current situation in Kalamos facing the common dolphins, commercial fishers, local fishers, local communities, government officials, recreational users of the area, and researchers.
  2. Students are to write a short 'argumentative' essay considering the perspectives of all interest groups and come up with their own solution to the problem of disappearing dolphins in Kalamos. They will consider the consequences of their decision for each group.
  3. Students will research suggested online resources, and any similar examples related to fisheries and ecosystem demise.
  4. From their research, students will develop a 'perspective' that clearly expresses how they think the situation could be managed and why.
  5. Teachers may select students to present their case, their job being to convince others of their position with a thoroughly researched argument.

Activity Answer:

Students use what they learned about the common dolphin in Kalamos as a catalyst for a class discussion about the conflicts and difficulties that can arise in marine conservation. Students see the connectedness between species survival and human induced pressures, the responsibility of regulators and the role of science and education. This activity gives students a real worldview of an ecosystem on the verge of collapse, its causes and its implications. It challenges students to explore the idea that for conservation and management to be effective, it should involve, and be supported by local communities. Related Resources

Related Resources -


For more information about what you can do to help, look at the following links:

  • Coastal Dolphins - www.coastaldolphins.org The Coastal dolphins site disseminates information about Mediterranean coastal dolphins and their conservation.
  • Tethys Research Institute - www.tethys.org Dedicated to preserving the marine environment through research, public awareness and education. This site is full of cetacean facts, current research findings and opportunities to join scientists in the field.
  • WDCS - www.wdcs.org As the global voice for the protection of whales, dolphins and porpoises, this site is regularly updated and offers a wealth of resources on species and international projects.
  • Cetacean Habitat - www.cetaceanhabitat.org This site is dedicated to the conservation of the critical habitats of whales, dolphins and porpoises in national waters and on the high seas of the world ocean.
  • ACCOBAMS - www.accobams.org ACCOBAMS is the Agreement on the Conservation of Cetaceans in the Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea and contiguous Atlantic area. It is a cooperative tool with the aim of reducing threats to cetaceans and improving knowledge of the animals.


  • Dolphins of the World - Ben Wilson
  • Bottlenose Dolphins - Paul Thompson & Ben Wilson
  • Whales and Dolphins of the World - Mark Simmonds

Classroom Application -

The 'Disappearing Dolphins' Activity Program is specifically directed at Grades 9 - 12 biology, geography, oceanography, environmental education, and IT studies. Lateral thinking allows activities encompassing cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) to link into a wide range of secondary curriculum areas. An awareness of other animals, particularly the study of charismatic keynote species, is crucial for students to learn about the issues involved in conservation and how the choices we make affect the world around us. Learning about the lives of other animals changes our 'world view', fosters a sense of responsibility and encourages action. The topic of cetaceans fits most obviously into the science learning area. However, there is ample opportunity to incorporate cetaceans into the geography, English and art frameworks.

Classroom Activity Author -

Genevieve Johnson has taught middle and high school students in the area of Environmental Education for over 12 years. She has also spent five years as a cetacean field researcher on an around the world science and education expedition. As well as teaching in a classroom, Genevieve designed the 'Class from the Sea' and 'Ocean Encounters' programs, designing curriculum and linking with students around the globe from the research vessel. She currently creates content for educators based on field experience with cetacean researchers and marine ecologists around the world, as part of the online series, Whale Trackers.