The Greek Islands are known for many things. The incredible ancient ruins, the unique cultures they have celebrated for millennia and some of the finest examples of Mediterranean cuisine are to name a few. However, one thing people don’t tend to realise is that the Greek Islands are a buzzing hive of life, and that the ocean beyond their shores are home to some of the most spectacular animals on the planet.
The word shark sets off alarm bells in most people’s heads. It’s a primal and understandable reaction to an image etched into our minds of furious jaws lined with row upon row of teeth. The basking shark however, is not a creature out of a horror movie, nor is it an animal with the capacity for terrorising small fishing villages, in fact the scariest thing about this animal is the fact that shark is in it’s name. In truth, a basking shark is a harmless plankton eating fish. Its slow movements, large size and docile nature make it appear more like a whale than any form of man-eating shark. Easy to spot, thanks to their dorsal fins and love of surface dwelling plankton, diving or snorkelling with a basking shark is an incredible one in a lifetime experience. Found all over the Greek Islands, although easiest to locate off the coast of Rhodes in the summer months, these gentle giants are a must see for any wildlife enthusiast visiting the islands.
Everyone’s favourite, dolphin are abundant in all corners of the globe, but that doesn’t mean seeing them is any less special. Despite their name, there nothing common about the common dolphin. Fast, agile, fiercely intelligent and with beautiful markings to boot, these animals are definitely worth looking out for. Although you might be able to spot common dolphin anywhere in the Mediterranean, one place where they are more populous than others it Gulf of Corinth. A small section of the Ionian Sea that cuts between the mainland of Greece and the Peloponnese, this protected area of the Med is host to common dolphins year round, making it the ideal spot to begin your search.
In the summer months, Zante is awash with party goers looking for a good time out on the streets of Lagunas, however, teenagers are not the only ones coming out at night this time of year. Loggerhead turtles head to the beaches all over the island, laying their eggs before slinking off back into the ocean. It’s a rare and incredible sight, to see these hulking animals drag their bodies up and down the beaches and one that draws in plenty of visitors each year. During in the daytime, the ocean surrounding Zante is filled with turtles biding their time, waiting for night to fall. This is a perfect chance to get out on a boat or kayak and have a look for the beautiful creatures. Swimmers in the water of Lagunas beach also have a chance of encountering these animals. Although endangered, the Loggerhead turtles are very populous around Zante between the months of May and July, and anybody who wants to catch a glimpse of the animal only need visit during these months and keep their eyes peeled.
Mediterranean Monk Seal
Small, innocuous and unassuming, the Mediterranean monk seal doesn’t look very different from your typical harbour seal, in fact you’d need to be a little bit of an expert to tell them apart. However, the Monk Seal is one of the rarest animals on Earth, number at around 500 in total, having been hunted to the brink of extinction. Incredibly tough to find – all colony locations are kept secret from the public – these animals dwell in caves all over the Mediterranean, although Greece is known for having one the highest concentrations of them. Because of this, the Alonissos Marine Park was created by Greek government as a way of protecting the animals habitat and breeding grounds. Located, not surprisingly, near the island of Alonissos, the reserve is by the best place in the world to see one of these critically endangered animals in the wild.
Instantly recognisable as the beasts battling giant squids in deep ocean trenches, Sperm Whales are one of the largest creatures ever to grace the waters of planet earth. Weighing in a 16 tons and reaching up to 20 metres in length, these juggernauts of the sea are an incredible sight to behold. Found in the Ionian Sea, as well as gathering across the Hellenic Trench, catching even a glimpse of these powerful, yet graceful animals is enough to take anyone’s breath away. Most populous near the island of Kefalonia, Sperm Whales are present in Greece year-round, meaning it is never a bad time to go out searching for them.
Words by: Cliff Blaylock of www.deepblueyachting.co.uk.