Teachers Guide - Sanctuaries of the Sea

Documentary Overview This is the final episode in the five-part series “Whales of the Mediterranean Sea”. "Sanctuaries of the Sea - Are Marine Protected Areas for Cetaceans a Solution?" revisits the ancient Mediterranean and its marine and cultural diversity. Today, much of this seas biodiversity is under threat, including its unique cetacean populations. Can creating Marine Protected Areas for cetaceans help protect their declining populations, as well as the species and habitats they depend on for survival?

The Program –

  • Takes the viewer on a journey through the ancient Mediterranean Sea.
  • Asks what it means to save cetaceans if their habitat is left unprotected?
  • Introduces Erich Hoyt, author, cetacean conservationist and senior research fellow for the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society.
  • Compares and considers our views toward protected areas on land, with protected areas in the ocean.
  • Explains how cetaceans can help protect entire ecosystems because of their need for large areas of ocean.
  • Discovers how scientists in the Alboran Sea are identifying critical habitat for migratory species such as cetaceans and sea turtles.
  • Discusses how a range of human pressures from both inside and outside sources, are impacting habitats and species within MPAs
  • Explains the need for ecosystem-based management and cooperation among all users for ‘paper parks’ to become real and effective
  • Expresses the idea that Marine Protected Areas for cetaceans can mark the beginning of a new era in the worldwide protection of whales, dolphins and porpoises and the marine habitats we all ultimately depend on.

Viewing Ideas -

Before Viewing:

  1. Explain to students that MPAs are the equivalent of National Parks on land. Show students a map of the world; highlighting that 71% of the Earth’s surface is ocean, while only 29% is land. Currently, we protect far more on land, than we do in the sea. Pose the question, why is our knowledge of marine ecosystems lagging so far behind our understanding of those on land?
  2. Show student the short documentary – ‘Sanctuaries of the Sea’. Divide them into pairs or small groups and advise them to take notes on the following points:
    • The differences in our perception of protection for marine based areas, compared to land based areas.
    • The use of cetaceans as umbrella species for MPAs.
    • Scientific research techniques to identify critical habitats for cetaceans and other migratory species.
    • Obstacles to creating effective MPAs.
    • The need for high seas MPAs.

After Viewing:

  1. Begin by giving students time to discuss their thoughts with their partner/group.
  2. Class discussion. Ask students how they feel about the idea of MPAs for cetaceans.
    • Why create MPAs for cetaceans rather than other species?
    • What are the effects of MPAs on different user groups? For example, fishermen, whale watchers, boat users, divers, etc.
    • What are the long-term benefits of well-managed MPAs?
    • Can the positions of critical habitats shift over time, why? What does this mean for MPAs?
    • Why are networks of MPAs necessary?
    • Can human pressures outside an MPA impact the ecosystem it aims to protect?
    • Are human activities within the Mediterranean region compatible with the creation of MPAs for cetaceans?

Classroom Activity -


Students utilize information gathered from ‘Sanctuaries of the Sea’, from class discussion, and from the Internet to investigate the number of MPA’s in a marine region at home. NOTE - This could include near your home town, city, state, or along part of the coastline of your country.



  • Understanding how the marine environments around our homes are protected is our responsibility. We are all reliant on healthy functioning marine ecosystems. In this activity, students will determine whether any MPAs or marine sanctuaries exist in the area they have chosen.
  • Students will work in pairs or small groups.
  • Together, they will determine the presence, or not, of MPAs.
  • Instruct them to choose one. They will determine the specific purpose of the MPAs, including:
    • What species or habitats types are being protected?
    • Are there cetaceans using the MPA?
    • What activities are permitted, and which are prohibited.
    • Are there any outside pressures on the MPA?
    • How old is the MPA, and is there evidence to support any benefit the marine habitat and its users?
    • How does the habitat inside the MPA differ to surrounding areas?
  • Students will determine the groups using the MPA.
  • Instruct students to research if any information is available to guide the public on the presence and uses of the MPA.
  • From their research, students will develop an informed perspective on the effectiveness of their chosen MPA, determining the benefits to marine ecosystems, species and human users.

Activity Answer:

Students use what they learned about MPAs for cetaceans, and the MPA they researched as a catalyst for a discussion via a class presentation/paper. Students see the connectedness between healthy marine ecosystems and proper management. It challengers students to explore their own values and responsibilities about the protection of marine biodiversity, and that of their community.

Related Resources -


  • 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. You will find explanations of key marine protected area (MPA) terms such as critical habitat and ecosystem-based management; excerpts from Erich Hoyt’s book Marine Protected Areas for Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises; an interactive directory and poster-map of the more than 500 MPAs and sanctuaries for cetaceans, both proposed and existing; news about MPAs and interviews with cetacean experts.
  • www.mpanews.org MPA News is a monthly international newsletter dedicated to providing information on the planning and management of marine protected areas around the world. The newsletter aims to serve the global community with important news, insightful analysis, helpful tips, and challenging points of view.
  • www.alboranseaconservation.org This collaborative project is studying the feasibility and effectiveness of marine protected areas for highly mobile marine vertebrates in the Alborán Sea, a dynamic pelagic ecosystem in the Western Mediterranean.
  • www.amcs.org.au The sea we know and love is changing. Once treated as a dumping ground and considered inexhaustible, our oceans are now in crisis and need our help. The Australian Marine Conservation Society creates marine national parks, saves our ocean wildlife and makes our fisheries sustainable.


  • Hoyt, E. 2005. Marine Protected Areas for Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises. A World Handbook for Cetacean Habitat Conservation. Earthscan.

Classroom Application -

The “Sanctuaries of the Sea” 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.