The Tethys Research Institute was founded in 1986 by Giuseppe Notarbartolo di Sciara and Egidio Gavazzi.
Since its beginning, Tethys has promoted research and conservation activities on marine mammals, in particular cetaceans (whales and dolphins) and the critically endangered Mediterranean monk seal, although investigations have also extended to devil rays and marine turtles. Research activities have taken place mainly in the Mediterranean Sea, but also in the Black Sea, the North Atlantic, the Caribbean, the Red Sea and Antarctica.
Research methods used include population studies based on distance sampling (from aircraft and surface) and photographic capture-recapture, remote sensing, bioacoustic research, behavioural sampling, remote collection of biopsy samples for genetic and toxicological analyses, the combined use of laser range-finding binoculars and GPS to record the movements of whales, and historical studies.
Based on its Statute, the main goal of Tethys is the conservation of the marine environment, achieved through the provision of scientific knowledge to conservation policy, and the participation in the international conservation process as affiliate or collaborating body with organisations such as the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), the Barcelona Convention for the Protection of the Mediterranean Sea, the Agreement on the Conservation of Cetaceans in the Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea and Contiguous Atlantic Area (ACCOBAMS), and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the International Whaling Commission (IWC). Accordingly, Tethys first conceived and proposed the creation of an iconic protected area, the Pelagos Sanctuary for the Conservation of Mediterranean Marine Mammals (in 1991), which was also the world’s first marine protected area established beyond national jurisdiction. Another important element of Tethys’ contribution to marine conservation is public awareness, achieved through the institute’s presence on the social media, on popular media and public television, as well as through the involvement, as research volunteers, of thousands of people from all over the world in its conservation activities (cruises and field bases). Started in 1987, Tethys’ involvement of volunteers in its research is amongst the world’s longest standing programmes of citizen science.
Funding to Tethys derive from government grants, private donors, European Commission programmes, and contributions from research volunteers. The work of Tethys is based on the collaboration of approximately 30 associates and assistants.