Maltese Cetacean Researcher participates in International Research Dr Adriana Vella, local cetacean field researcher since 1997, was invited to participate in the World Cetacean Research project, organized by the Ocean Alliance, during one of its research legs.  This research expedition was in the Mediterranean between June and October 2004. The project called, the Voyage of the Odyssey is a five-year program aimed at gathering the first ever baseline data on levels of synthetic contaminants throughout the world's oceans. In order to reach this goal the researchers are focusing on sperm whales and pelagic fish as indicator species for measuring the health of the seas.

The Ocean Alliance is dedicated to rigorous scientific research in conjunction with global education in order to improve people's appreciation for, and understanding of the ocean environment and the creatures within it, and to contribute to the conservation of whales. Ocean Alliance sponsored the visiting scientists on board of the Odyssey (the research sailing boat) and thus allowed ACCOBAMS region scientistst o contribute to this valid, unique and exceptionally interesting project.  It is not surprising therefore that the fruitful results obtained in the Mediterranean Sea region were obtained through the collaboration between Ocean Alliance and ACCOBAMS. For Dr Adriana Vella, the experience of being part of such a project was unforgettable even if she has had years of cetacean field work in Maltese waters, as part of her ongoing long-term scientific research. The difference lied in having the opportunity of working with the latest instrumentations and equipment that made searching for and finding the very elusive Sperm whales greatly focused.  Also important was the opportunity to join an international team and share such an experience with all its familiar problems and satisfactions.

Joining this expedition in the Mediterranean Cetacean Sanctuary (in the Ligurian Sea) was very interesting and valuable to her as a conservation biologist who looks forward to seeing a cetacean sanctuary set up in the southern and central region of the Mediterranean in order to conserve the vulnerable Mediterranean cetacean species found in this region too. Cetacean sightings in the Ligurian Sea included Sperm whales, Fin whales, Pilot whales and Stripped dolphins. The research included obtaining minute tissue samples from the Sperm whales in order to study the genetics of the world Sperm whale populations, and toxic substance levels accumulated in their fat through the food they eat and seas they live in. It is fascinating to note how technology has advanced to the level where relevant and valuable conservation research may be undertaken with great sophistication without harming the animal under study.

It is with great enthusiasm that Dr Vella looks forward to sustain her cetacean research project around the Maltese Islands and to see greater financial support from both local private and government entities and foreign sources that may assist this ongoing project for the benefit of both these species and our sea.    The founder and president of Ocean Alliance (formerly, the Whale Conservation Institute) and Senior Scientist and Executive Producer of this project is Dr Roger Payne.  Dr Payne is best known for his discovery (with Scott McVay) that humpback whales sing songs, and for his theory that the sounds of fin and blue whales can be heard across oceans (a theory that has recently been confirmed by one of Payne's students working with blue whales). He has studied the behavior of whales since 1967.  He has led over 100 expeditions to all oceans and studied every species of large whale in the wild. He pioneered many of the benign research techniques now used throughout the world to study free-swimming whales, and has trained many of the current leaders in whale research, both in America and abroad.

Funds for research are not easy to come by not even for the very charismatic dolphins and whales that inhabit the seas and oceans of our planet.  It is important to reflect on this fact, so as to strengthen our will for action when it comes to monitoring and conserving these species - after all, their elusiveness must not mean our forgetfulness of their need for effective protection.  Without accurate information on the lives of and threats to these species it will be very difficult to protect them for many years to come. The Voyage of the Odyssey stands as an excellent example of how cetaceans may be studied to investigate their presence, abundance and health.  Through these factors we may also obtain accurate indications of the sea's status and its requirements to safeguard marine life.

For more information on the odyssey's voyage search:
For more information on ACCOBAMS and Mediterranean research search:

For more information on the Maltese Cetacean Project contact:
Dr Adriana Vella,
Conservation Biology Research Group,
Department of Biology, University of Malta, Msida.