This page is an opportunity for you to find the answers to any questions you may have…

About the Pelagos Sanctuary...

What does the Sanctuary do?

The Pelagos Sanctuary was created to protect marine mammals from threats caused by human activities. Rather than prohibiting these activities, the Sanctuary seeks to ensure that they are compatible with the presence of some very remarkable species.

Why does it cover a particular area?

All the marine mammal species in the Mediterranean are frequent visitors of the Sanctuary. Attracted by the large quantities of plankton available, the majority of the whales in the Mediterranean congregate in the area from June to October to find food. The region’s distinctive current system and underwater terrain are the source of biological productivity that is exceptional in the Mediterranean, and provides fauna rich in quantity and diversity. Coastal sections of the Sanctuary are also impacted by large-scale urbanization, a source of pollution and multiple hazards. In addition, the vast area is also subject to intense commercial, civil and military marine traffic and its rich biological resources are highly exploited. These pressures and stakes have led the three riparian countries of the Sanctuary, that share a long history with the sea, to join forces in order to protect marine mammals.

What makes the Sanctuary unique?

The Sanctuary is an Agreement that defines an area of marine protection that extends beyond territorial jurisdiction (12 nautical miles from the coast). It therefore covers the high seas, for which regulations, as defined by the 1982 Montego Bay Convention, are known to be flexible. However, an "Ecological Protection Zone" has been created in Italy and France has created an "Exclusive Economic Zone" that extends beyond the 12 mile limit and proposes sanctions on boats – including foreign vessels – accused of intentional pollution.

Why is the term ‘Sanctuary’ used?

A ‘Sanctuary’ originally meant ‘a sacred place of special significance’ and had a religious connotation. In our case, ‘Sanctuary’ is to be interpreted as ‘a place of biological importance with a particular focus on and greater consideration for the species within it and their habitats’. The Pelagos Sanctuary is also listed as a Specially Protected Area of Mediterranean Importance (ASPIM), as established under the Barcelona Convention.

Who is it for?

The Sanctuary is not a ‘strict marine reserve’ and is open to all! Specific regulations have nevertheless been put in place to preserve the area’s biological diversity. We should all be aware of the vulnerability of the marine environment and how irresponsible behavior can cause direct or indirect harm to animals.

What are its aims?

The protection of marine mammals and their habitats, while finding ways to preserve traditional human activities.

How does it work?

The Sanctuary is the result of an agreement between three countries: France, Italy and the Principality of Monaco. Each country operates individually, with a Permanent Secretariat based in Monaco coordinating all activities. The French Ministry of Ecology and Sustainable Development appointed the Port-Cros National Park as coordinator of national action plans.

Who manages the Sanctuary?

The Meeting of the Parties is the decision-making body of the Agreement. It approves recommendations made by the Scientific and Technical Committee, which are in turn based on proposals from the Working Groups. The activities of all three countries are coordinated by a Permanent Secretariat, in line with the Management Plan introduced in 2004. Activities in France are coordinated by the Port-Cros National Park.

Who is the overarching authority?

The Agreement’s three signatory countries have authority over the Sanctuary. Orientations are given during tripartite meetings.

How large is the Pelagos Sanctuary?

87 500 sq. km

Could the Pelagos Agreement bring in more partners?

The Agreement does not preclude the possibility of other countries joining.


About marine mammals...

Which species can be found in the Sanctuary?

Eight species are commonly found in the Pelagos Sanctuary. You can see the list of species by clicking here.

Which species are the most threatened?

All species are threatened by human activities. The IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) has put together a Red List of the most endangered species and several species found in the Sanctuary appear on this list:

  • Balaenoptera acutorostrata - Common minke whale
  • Balaenoptera physalus - Fin whale
  • Grampus griseus - Risso’s dolphin

Has there been any ‘change’ in cetaceans yet?

The Sanctuary Agreement is too recent for its impact on species to be clearly visible, especially since initial efforts were focused mainly on setting up the Sanctuary, on conducting scientific research and on pursuing its more or less long-term goals through the implementation of a management plan. It can be said that the active tripartite work only began after the permanent Secretariat became operational.


About Humans...

Can I help collect information about cetaceans in the Mediterranean or help count them?

Every summer, RIMMO (the International Marine Reserve for the Western Mediterranean) organizes Operation DELPHIS. In an effort to bring sea excursions and marine environmental protection closer together, pleasure boaters along the French, Italian and Monegasque Mediterranean coasts are invited to take part in a unique day involving cetacean observations and seawater sampling for scientific tests. This event, inaugurated in 1996, is an opportunity to raise awareness about protecting cetaceans and their habitats among pleasure boaters and other sea users. Large amounts of information are thus obtained about the species, their size and location, plankton and the biological condition of seawater.

The meeting attracts sea and cetacean-lovers alike and takes place every year on the third Sunday in July, or, if weather conditions are poor, the fourth Sunday. More information and registration form are available from the website.

A number of marine mammal and marine environment protection associations and NGOs also organize sea activity days where eco-volunteers help to obtain scientific information such as cetacean photo-identification with GPS data. This information is then analyzed by scientists.

It is possible to swim with dolphins in the Mediterranean but is this activity truly authorized as part of a whale watching tour?

A number of operators offer the chance to swim with dolphins as part of their whale watching tours. The Pelagos Sanctuary and its partners are currently reviewing whale watching in the Mediterranean, and swimming with dolphins is one of the issues explored. In our opinion, the activity poses a number of problems. The first is the fact that it intrudes on cetaceans, with techniques to approach them that can generate strikes risks. Issues of changes in the behavior and activities of the mammals are also problematic. Lastly, the activity brings with it the risk of spreading illness and disease that could affect both humans and animals. As a result, we disapprove of this activity which is both risky for swimmers and disruptive to the animals. A code of good conduct is now in place – abiding by it is one of the conditions that enable whale watching operators to be certified.

Does the Sanctuary organize whale watching trips for the public? If so, when in the year do they take place and how much do they cost?

The Pelagos Sanctuary does not organize sea excursions for the public. However, this list of whale watching operators shows companies that have a responsible approach to the marine environment in an effort to create sustainable whale watching. You can use it to plan a trip by departure location, type of boat, type of operator etc. The best time for observing marine mammals is in the summer, although sea excursions focusing on Mediterranean fauna in general are also organized during the same period.

Which whale watching companies are recommended and committed to their work?

A code of good conduct is in place – it is one of the conditions that operators need to adhere to in order to obtain an international label, which will be implemented in the near future. Before this official approval system comes into effect, we suggest that you examine the list of whale watching operators that completed the training offered by Pelagos in 2012.

Has there been a change in mindsets?

It is still much too early to carry out a full assessment, but it is fair to say that administrative authorities and professional organizations of the sea are beginning to take the Sanctuary into account before carrying out operations at sea. A number of events provide sea users with information regarding the rules and regulations that must be observed, and regular training programs are regularly organized to inform State stakeholders and professional groups involved in marine activities.


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