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Marine science


University of Parma. My first introduction to research was through my participation in a study of the agonistic behaviour and territoriality of a small gobiid fish, Padogobius martensi, performed in 1968-69 as a student research assistant to Gilberto Gandolfi, professor of zoology of the University of Parma. 

Hubbs-Sea World Research Institute, San Diego. After graduating from the University of Parma I moved to San Diego, California, where I worked for three years (1977-1980) as a research associate of the Hubbs-Sea World Research Institute.  Activities there included: (a) research assistantship in a study of the auditory sensitivity of beluga whales (1977); (b) coordination of the initial phase of a problem analysis of the potential effects of space shuttle sonic booms on the marine fauna of the California Channel Islands (1978); (c) an extensive literature compilation on the whale shark, culminating in an on-line bibliography which can still be searched on http://scilib.ucsd.edu/sio/indexes/whalshrk.html; and (d)a year-long investigation of the distribution and abundance of large marine vertebrates (Bryde's whales, manta rays and whale sharks) found in the coastal waters of eastern Venezuela, involving both aerial and vessel surveys (1978-1979).  In Venezuela I had the opportunity of receiving the advice, training and support, both in the survey planning phase and in part of the field work, from colleague and friend Steve Leatherwood.

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. While still in Venezuela, in October 1979 I was joined by a team from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), lead by William A. Watkins, for a Bryde’s whale radio-tagging experiment.  In the following years I was often invited to join the WHOI team: (a) in a fin whale radio-tagging experiment in the Irminger Sea and Denmark Strait (1980); (b) in a bioacoustics study of the odontocete cetaceans in the seas surrounding Sicily (1985); (c) in a bioacoustics study of cetaceans in the Canary Islands coastal waters (1987); (d) in a joint WHOI/Tethys radio-tagging experiment of fin whales in the Ligurian Sea (1988); (e) in two cruises (in 1991 and 1993) involving the tagging with acoustic transponders and tracking by sonar of sperm whales in the Caribbean Sea off Dominica.

University of Hawaii. In 1978 I participated as a research assistant in a study of the social behaviour and ecology of humpback whales in Hawaii, with Louis M. Herman, professor of psy­chology of the University of Hawaii.  Methods included aerial and boat surveys, photo-identification, focal animal observations, underwater observations and acoustic recordings.

Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla. In 1980 I was admitted as a Ph.D. student to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California at San Diego.  My thesis work, funded by a grant from San Diego’s Foundation for Ocean Research, focused on the ecology, life history, and taxonomy of manta rays.  Richard Rosenblatt was my major professor; Theodore Bullock, Paul Dayton, William Evans and Walter Munk were also on my thesis committee.

In 1983 I stationed at fishing camps in southern Baja California, Mexico, to collect study specimens and data.  In the process I proceeded to the revision of the systematics of the genus Mobula, and described a new species, M. munkiana Notarbartolo di Sciara 1987, which I named after Walter Munk, oceanographer extraordinary and friend.  The type specimens of M. munkiana are deposited in the collections of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, California.  

Tethys Research Institute. After obtaining my degree in 1985 I returned to Italy, where in 1986 I founded the Tethys Research Institute, a non-profit research NGO based in Milan and Venice, specialising in the study Mediterranean cetaceans.  Research by Tethys was characterised by the innovative use of non-invasive field study techniques which had rarely if at all been applied to the study of cetaceans in this marine region.  These included surveys to determine relative abundance, line-transect surveys, photo-identification techniques, VHF radio-tracking, the combined use of laser range-finding binoculars and GPS to passively track and record the horizontal movements of whales, the study of diving cetaceans through the use of time-depth recorders, acoustic recordings and surveys, and the remote collection of minuscule biopsies for genetic and toxicological studies.  Between 1987 and 1989 Tethys embarked in a series of cruises for a pioneering description of the distribution and relative abundance of cetaceans in the seas surrounding Italy.  In 1988 I obtained funding to conduct in the Ligurian Sea a fin whale radio-tracking experiment in cooperation with colleagues from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.  Since then, research cruises continued every year in the Ligurian Sea, and are still organised today, thereby collecting an extensive database on cetacean occurrence and ecology in the Pelagos Sanctuary.  Analyses performed on fin whales’ skin samples indicated that Mediterranean whales are likely to be a population isolated from the Atlantic.  In parallel, Tethys initiated in 1990 a longitudinal, photo-id-based study of the socio-ecology of bottlenose dolphins in the waters east to the Croatian (formerly Yugoslavian) islands of Lošjni and Cres, which continued until 2000; a similar research programme was initiated as well in 1993, focusing on the socio-ecology of common and bottlenose dolphins based in Kalamos, western Greece, and still continuing today.

Centro Studi Cetacei. In 1985 I have contributed to the organisation of a national cetacean and turtle stranding network in Italy.  During that year I was the scientific organiser of the “First Italian Conference on Cetaceans”, hosted in Riccione by the Adriatic Sea World.  At that meeting, based on a proposal that I had prepared in cooperation with colleagues from the Natural History Museum of Milan, the decision was adopted of founding the “Centro Studi Cetacei” (CSC).  I served as coordinator of CSC from 1985 to 1990, and am now honorary member of that organisation.  Results from the national stranding network, maintained by CSC, are published annually on the Proceedings of the Italian Society of Natural Sciences, and have provided an unprecedented amount of information on cetacean and turtle strandings and mortality in Italy.

CIESM. Since the mid-80s I have been a member of the Monaco-based International Commission for the Scientific Exploration of the Mediterranean Sea (CIESM), and participated to several of its congresses.  I have served from 1992 to 1994 as coordinator of the CIESM marine mammal working group, and again, from 2001 to present, as coordinator of the marine mammal task force.  My tasks involved the organisation of initiatives to promote the advancement of marine mammal science in the Mediterranean, creating and maintaining a Mediterranean task force of experts in the field of marine mammal science, supporting CIESM Director General in achieving the goals of the Commission, and the provision of scientific support for the establishment of the Scientific Committee of ACCOBAMS. In my capacity I have convened a workshop on cetacean conservation during the CIESM 36th Congress in Monte Carlo, in 2001. In 2004 I have have organised, in cooperation with Frédéric Briand, CIESM Director General, CIESM Workshop 25, "Investigating the roles of cetaceans in marine ecosystems", which was held in Venice from 28 to 31 January. My participation to the activities of the CIESM 37th Congress (Barcelona, 7-11 June 2004) included the organisation and moderation of two round tables: (a) Round Table 6: "Cetacean distribution - data collection and use", to develop a scheme for the collection of cetacean sighting data, increase homogeneity of spatial and seasonal coverage, and facilitate the application of new data analysis and diffusion methods to generate web-based distribution maps; and (b) Round Table 10: "Protecting the Mediterranean high seas and deep sea", a cooperative effort between CIESM and IUCN, to review the challenges of identifying and protecting key areas representative of Mediterranean deep sea ecosystems on the basis of the latest scientific knowledge and available legal instruments.

ICRAM. Having been nominated in 1996 president of ICRAM (the government Central Institute for Applied Marine Research in Rome) provided me with a unique opportunity for promoting and directly funding marine research in Italy during the nearly seven years of my mandate.  In that period, by request of the Board that I chaired, ICRAM implemented hundreds of research projects in a variety of fields of applied marine science, including: studies of the quality of waters and sediments in the seas surrounding Italy, mechanisms for the formation of marine mucilages, diffusion of alien species in Mediterranean marine ecosystems, the role of research in the improvement of the effectiveness of marine protected areas, the development of ecosystem-based fisheries and low-impact marine aquaculture, effects of climate change on marine ecosystems.

Research on Mediterranean sharks and rays. To help coagulate elasmobranch science in Italy, in 1995 I organised at the Milan City Aquarium the first Italian Conference on Elasmobranchs, where an informal group, GRIS (Gruppo Ricercatori Italiani sugli Squali) was founded.  In 1997 I participated in representation of GRIS to the founding and 1st Annual General Meeting of the European Elasmobranch Association (EEA), having the objectives of advancing the conservation of sharks, rays and chimaeras in European and international waters for the public benefit, through education, promoting and disseminating research, and seeking to achieve their sustainable management.  I later participated to several meetings of the EEA (e.g., Lisbon, 1998; Livorno, 2000; San Marino, 2003).  I was also a member of the organising committee of the 2003 San Marino meeting.

Participation in scientific societies. I am a charter member and life member of the Society of Marine Mammalogy.  I have participated and presented communications to many of the Society biennial meetings (San Diego, 1977; Miami, 1987; Pacific Grove, 1989; Chicago, 1991; Galveston, 1993; Orlando, 1995; Monaco, 1998; Maui, 1999). I have as well been an active member of the European Cetacean Society (ECS) since its foundation in 1987.  I have participated in most of the society’s annual meetings (La Rochelle, 1989; Palma de Mallorca, 1990; Sandefjord, 1991; San Remo, 1992; Inverness, 1993; Montpellier, 1994; Lugano, 1995; Lisbon, 1996; Stralsund, 1997; Monaco, 1998; Valencia, 1999; Rome, 2001; Liège, 2002; Las Palmas de Cran Canaria, 2003; La Rochelle, 2005).  I have been a member of the ECS Board from 1990 to 1997, and have served as president of the Society from 1993 to 1997.  I was the organiser of the 1992 San Remo meeting, and as president of ICRAM I hosted the 2001 Rome meeting.  At the 1994 Montpellier meeting I organised and chaired the ECS workshop: “Methods for the study of bottlenose dolphin populations in the wild”.

I am a member of the Società Italiana di Biologia Marina since 1986, and have been a member of the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists from 1988 to 2005.

Scientific journals. I have cooperated with a number of scientific journals for the peer reviewing of submitted papers. Journals include: Ambio, Aquatic Mammals, Biologia Marina Mediterranea, Caribbean Journal of Science, Conservation Biology, Ecological Applications, Environmental Management, European Research on Cetaceans, IEEE Journal of Oceanic Engineering, Italian Journal of Zoology (= Bollettino di Zoologia), Journal of Cetacean Research and Management, Journal of Mammalogy, Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom, Latin Americal Journal of Aquatic Mammals, Mammal Review, Mammalia, Marine Biology (Berlin), Marine Ecology Progress Series, Marine & Freshwater Research, Marine Mammal Science, Scientific Reports of the International Whaling Commission, and Zootaxa. I have also several times reviewed proposals submitted to the National Geographic Committee for Research and Exploration. Since 2005 I am a member of the Editorial Board of Aquatic Mammals.

Miscellaneous activities. Scientific activities not connected with structured institutional tasks listed above include: the organisation of a symposium on the “Social structures of Cetaceans” at the 5th International Theriological Conference, Rome (1989), in cooperation with Peter L. Tyack, senior scientist at WHOI; participation as an invited speaker to the 1992 British Science Festival, Southampton; participation as an invited speaker to the 9th Workshop “Underwater bioacoustics: behavioural, environmental and evolutionary perspectives” of the International School of Ethology, Erice, Sicily (1994); participation to the 5th Congress of the Croatian Biological Society, Pula, Croatia (1994); participation to the first (1995) and second (1997) “Forum on coastal and marine biodiversity in the Mediterranean”, organised in Alghero, Sardinia by Medmaravis; participation as an invited speaker to the International Forum of Dolphins and Whales, Muroran, Japan (1998); attendance to the Mote Symposium on Essential Fish Habitats, Sarasota, Florida (1998), and to the ICES Workshop: “Ecosystem management of fisheries”, Montpellier (1999).  In 2002 I have been invited to sit in the Liaison Committee of Europhlukes, a project funded by the European Commission under the Fifth Framework Programme to develop a European cetacean photo-id system and database, and participated to the Europhlukes Conference in Madeira, Portugal, in 2002.  In 2003 I was invited to attend to the expert meeting on the “Mediterranean Taxonomy Initiative”, organised by the RAC/SPA in Tunis.

In September 1993 I was awarded the “Premio Tridente d'Oro” for my scientific activities by the International Academy of Underwater Sciences and Techniques on the island of Ustica, Italy.

In May 2006 the Milan City Aquarium and Verdeacqua, promoters of the 10th edition of "Il Mare a Milano", awarded me with the "Premio alla Carriera UNA VITA PER IL MARE".