Nature Encounters on Greek Ferry Trips

Ferries may seem like a right of passage when island-hopping, but they also offer a unique opportunity to see whales. However, responsible whale watching practices are important, as marine mammals and sea turtles are sensitive to disturbances.

Some whale species, especially mother and calf pairs, are particularly vulnerable to disturbances. These impacts can have serious consequences for wildlife and humans alike.

1. Dolphins

Experience a once-in-a-lifetime marine adventure by spotting dolphins playing and protecting their young. Watch them flipper slapping and tail lobbing on the surface or breaching high into the air for a majestic aerial display.

These intelligent marine mammals are known to form close bonds with their mothers and calves. Their social behavior may include grooming, swimming and even bow-riding1. However, whales have a highly sensitive response system and repeated harassment by vessels can lead to behavioral changes2.

Responsible whale watching involves only visiting areas where cetaceans are regularly found and only using small boats. This prevents physical distancing and reduces the likelihood of whales becoming habituated to tourist vessels2. In addition, many whale watching companies offer educational materials and other resources for passengers which can enhance your experience onboard.

2. Whales

Whales are the largest marine mammals in the world, and they’re often a thrill to watch. Many cruises stop in wildlife-rich areas like Alaska, where you’ll have a great chance to spot cetaceans (the order of marine mammals that includes dolphins and whales) on guided excursions. You can also look for marine mammal spotting opportunities on your own by positioning yourself on an upper deck with binoculars or, in more tranquil seas, simply recline on a balcony and wait. Bridge officers keep extra watch and may announce sightings if they spot something special.

Although lingering boats can distract whales and disrupt their natural behaviours, some cruise companies offer opportunistic data collection to support local conservation or research efforts. They also encourage passengers to follow WHALE SENSE guidelines for responsible whale watching, which include keeping vessels a minimum of 100 yards away from cetaceans and respecting their natural space. Depending on the species, location and group composition of the whales or dolphins being observed, these guidelines can reduce stress levels, underwater noise pollution, disorientation and ship strikes.

3. Seabirds

Whales are a must-see for any marine wildlife lover. They’re spectacularly large mammals, and their acrobatic displays are thrilling to watch. You can see whales from land, but the best way to experience their amazing presence is to take a whale-watching boat tour.

Most whale watching tours operate with a great deal of knowledge about sea life and are committed to responsible whale watching practices. For example, they typically minimize boat speeds in close proximity to whales and avoid circling them or riding parallel to them. This is important because whales and dolphins are sensitive to noise and vibration, especially young calves that rely on their mothers for food and shelter for the first several years of their lives.

Additionally, many whale-watching companies support local marine research and conservation efforts through opportunistic data collection and donations. For example, the See A Spout program provides safe boating guidelines to recreational powerboat operators in the Northeast US. You can also find general whale watching regulations from the International Whaling Commission and Convention on Migratory Species. These regulations vary by region and species, but they generally recommend appropriate approach distances and limits on number of boats and hours of whale-watching per day to reduce risk of long-term negative impacts for whales or dolphins as a population.

4. Seals

Whale watching is a great activity to take part in as it offers a chance to see marine wildlife in their natural habitat. While whales tend to get the most attention, you may also spot dolphins, sea lions and other marine species while on whale watching trips.

Some people are against whale watching as they believe that it disrupts the whale’s natural breeding and migration patterns and this may lead to their endangerment. However, other people support whale watching as it offers a form of recreation and can be used for scientific research.

Responsible whale watching can generate income and employment in local communities, and educate tourists about the whales’ habitat and conservation needs. This can inspire these tourists to become active proponents of environmental and whale conservation actions.

The Sporades archipelago is home to a variety of marine wildlife including one of the rarest seal species in the world, the Mediterranean Monk Seal. They can often be spotted while boating around the islands of Skiathos, Skopelos, Skyros and Alonissos, which are all a short ferry trip from Athens.

5. Turtles

Turtles (Testudinidae) are solitary creatures that spend most of their time submerged in the ocean. They are able to remain underwater for days at a time by pumping water in and out of their cloaca, taking oxygen directly from the sea. They have large stores of oxygen in their muscles and a drastically slowed heart rate to conserve energy while at sea.

Despite their tough outer shells, turtles and tortoises are docile animals that do not bite unless they are threatened or eating. Their scales are covered with a layer of soft tissue, making them surprisingly sensitive to vibrations and changes in water pressure that could indicate a potential meal or a predator nearby.

While it’s hard to see sea turtles in the wild, you might be lucky enough to catch sight of them on a trip to Zakynthos, one of Europe’s key nesting grounds for loggerheads (Caretta caretta). On a TUI Collection experience, you’ll cruise along the Keri peninsula by its sea-plunging cliffs and caves before landing to visit a local taverna and hear from Yannis Vardakastanis about his work with the ARCHELON volunteer and education program that protects sea turtles and their habitat.