Dolphin Photo Identification Study (DolPhInS Step1)

The DolPhInS Project aims to perform a deeper assessment of bottlenose dolphins’ population in the central Tyrrhenian Sea.

The bottlenose dolphin is a top predator cetacean species, and the regular presence of these animals in coastal waters indicates high diversity of the marine communities, including fish species of commercial interest. Therefore, bottlenose dolphin is a key marine species that can be used as indicator of the environmental quality, and the evaluation of its distribution and abundance is also requested by the complex international legislative framework.

Due to the presence of separate subpopulations in the Mediterranean Sea, information is still scattered preventing to assess the real status of the basin population, which seems to show decreasing trends.

In the coastal waters of northern Latium, just outside the southern border of the Pelagos Sanctuary marine protected area, a preliminary study of the University of Tuscia – CISMAR (based in Civitavecchia) showed a quite stable occurrence of bottlenose dolphins, together with hotspots of marine biodiversity.


Examples of biodiversity hotspots for (A) bottlenose dolphin and (B) Audouin’s gull From Cafaro et al. 2016


On this basis, the DolPhInS Project (Dolphin Photo Identification Study) aims to perform a deeper assessment of bottlenose dolphins’ distribution in this poorly known area in order to:

  • Provide first estimation of the local population abundance and social structure in the waters between Tor Paterno and Monte Argentario;
  • Identify critical and preferred habitats and foraging grounds;
  • Study the association with other marine predators, and identify biodiversity hotspots;
  • Evaluate the potential interactions with human activities in the area (fishing, boat traffic).



Location of the study area between Tor Paterno and Monte Argentario



Examples of human activities in the study area



These objectives will be achieved in two sampling seasons through the visual monitoring of a large coastal area in the central Tyrrhenian Sea, between Latium and Tuscany. During the summer months, regular transects will be carried out all through the area from a sailing boat with experienced observers.


Tools for visual monitoring



By applying the non-invasive technique of photo-identification, dolphins will be recognised in different sightings based on their natural marks on dorsal fins and flanks, allowing population estimates and tracking individual movements among different groups. Behavioural data, social structure, association with other marine species and habitat types, relationships with anthropogenic activities will be also collected, contributing to improve the knowledge needed for the conservation of this species and the entire coastal habitat.


Examples of useful pictures for photo-identification


The DolPhInS Project will be carried out by with the support of the Me.Ri.S. Association and all the activities will help building up in the Latium coast a permanent investigation unit regarding cetacean species and marine ecosystems at the Tuscia University, already included in the CIRCE Consortium (Interuniversity Centre for Cetacean Research).

The requested funding will cover the costs for equipment for the field work and data collection, also supporting the activities of researchers of the university involved.

The total budget for the whole project is 90.000,00 €, made of requested funding (80.000,00 €) and the economic costs covered by the universities (10.000,00 €).

The project will be carried out in three separate steps, for each of which a specific crowdfunding campaign will be launched. Once the first step is financed, funds will be passed for the second step and so on.

DolPhInS – Step 1 : Requested funding: 31.000,00 €

The project will start with one-year study. At the beginning a bibliographic research and detailed description of the study area (habitat types, depth, geomorphology, human activities and seasonal environmental variations) will be carried out, along with an update about the state of current research carried out about bottlenose dolphin in Italian waters. Meetings among researchers and consultants (Me.Ri.S. association) will be planned to differentiate operational tasks and define the sampling design, protocol, timing and equipment. This step will in fact include 5 months of sampling during summer, and the funds requested will allow the purchase of dedicated equipment.

For for more information on the project activities and costs please see the Project Proposal.

Bottlenose dolphin

The DolPhInS Team


I’m Associate professor at the Department of Ecological and Biological Sciences of the Tuscia University (CISMAR Viterbo, Italy), tenured since 2010 for courses of Marine Ecology, Applied Ecology and Conservation of the Marine Environment within the Marine Biology Degree Programme. I am also the representative for the inter-academic CIRCE Consortium for Cetacean Research.

My research activity is focused on ecology, ecological genetics, conservation biology and environmental monitoring. My main research topic is about the study of genetic diversity of natural fish populations, in relationship to the heterogeneity and the variability of environmental conditions. Other investigation topics are oriented to the genetic structure of Mediterranean cetacean populations and their relationships with environmental and anthropogenic factors.

To date, I supervised over 20 BSc and MSc thesis concerning these subjects and I published 20 scientific papers in international journals, and numerous scientific communications and articles as contribution to congresses.



I’m a research fellow at the Department of Ecological and Biological Sciences of the Tuscia University (Viterbo, Italy), working on the analysis of the relationships between cetaceans and the main anthropogenic threats in the western Mediterranean Sea,

I worked on several projects about the ecology of terrestrial and marine mammals, but my most recent research activities, including my PhD, have been focused on cetacean species and the potential impact of maritime traffic and marine litter on these animals. Since 2009 I directly followed the monitoring of cetaceans from ferries in the central Tyrrhenian Sea within the international Fixed Line Transect Monitoring Network, supervised by ISPRA (Balenaferries).

I published 9 scientific papers in international journals, and numerous scientific communications and articles as contribution to congresses.

At the moment, I’m the scientific responsible of the Accademia del Leviatano association, that organises training for Marine Mammal Observers, educational activities and credits for students, and it is involved in international projects for the conservation of the marine environment.



I’m a cetacean specialist and the president of MeRiS, a no-profit and apolitical organization for the promotion and defence of the marine mammals and their environment. and. In 2006, I began my research applied to cetaceans at the University of Genoa, where in 2013 I earned the PhD in Marine Science, with a study on the conservation of the Mediterranean bottlenose dolphin population. My research activities focus on the functioning of marine ecosystems and the protection of cetaceans, through studies of abundance, movements, social structure and habitat use of cetacean. Since 2010, in the framework of two Life Nature projects (ARION and WHALESAFE), I’ve been engaged in the mitigation of interactions between cetaceans and human activities (i.e. collision, noise disturbance, interactions with fisheries). I lead my research through several approaches such as photo- identification, bio-acoustic and spatial modelling, which results have led to numerous publications. I founded MeRiS with the aim of bringing my skills in my native land, Sicily, where research on cetacean is still scarce, starting the monitoring in 2015.

In this Dolphins Project I will be involved in the photo- identification analysis.



I’m involved in the activities of MeRiS as scientific collaborator.

Since my bachelor degree I was interested in cetaceans, carrying out a thesis on cetacean parasites at Rome University “La Sapienza”. In 2014 I got a master’s degree in Nature Conservation at the Tuscia University, with a study on the populations of bottlenose dolphins and seabirds in the north-central Tyrrhenian Sea aiming to identify areas of importance for marine megafauna presence for conservation and management purpose, publishing the results in an international journal. I took part in a numerous research surveys in the Tyrrhenian Sea and I’m currently enrolled in the PhD course at the Tuscia University working on the impact of underwater noise on bottlenose dolphin.


Alberta Mandich – Director of CIRCE – Interuniversity Center for Cetacean Research,Genoa, Italy

“The project will be completing part of the activities of the CIRCE Consortium and it will definitely contribute to a further developement of a permanent research unit at the Tuscia University with regard to cetaceans.”

Guido Gnone – Research Coordinator – Acquario di Genova; Research Coordinator – Intercet

Theproject proposed by the University of Tuscia (CISMAR) could provide extremely useful information on the presence and abundance of Tursiops truncatus inan area (the Lazio coast) where the data available are extremely short. In order to give maximum value to the data collected, in terms of knowledge on the target species, the same data should be included in a research network, to be compared with those coming from neighboring study areas (see for example The Lazio data could thus contribute to a larger scale analysis, producing information on the conservation status of Tursiops truncatus in Mediterranean waters.

Bruno Diaz Lopéz – Bottlenose Dolphin Research Institute, O Grove, Spain

As Director of the Bottlenose Dolphin Research Institute BDRI, I have been studying the ecology and behaviour of this species since 1999 and I would like to remark the importance of studies like DolPhInS for the understanding and conservation of common bottlenose dolphinsin Italian waters.

Antonella Arcangeli – ISPRA, Rome, Italy

Antonella Arcangeli, responsible for the FLT Mediterranean Monitoring Network (BalenaFerries), says that “This project has to be encouraged because it will improve knowledge about local population of bottlenose dolphins in a poorly studied area, where environmental conditions are affected by heavy human activities; it’s also important to undersand the potential interactions with anthropogenic stressors at local scale, to provide useful information to plan wider conservation measures.”

Luca Marini – Regione Lazio, Rome, Italy


Tuscia University

The Tuscia University (Italian: Università degli Studi della Tuscia, UNITUS) is a university located in Viterbo, Italy. It was founded in 1979 and comprises 6 faculties.

Me.Ri.S. Association