Chania Elephant Cave

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Location: Kokkino Chorio

Outside Souda Bay, just 500 meters from Cape Drapanos, lies the spectacular Elephant Cave, a large underwater cavern that was named after the elephant bones unearthed in it. The cave was discovered in 1999, when Manolis Efthimakis, an underwater hunter, came across it by chance.

Located 10 meters below the surface of the sea, its mouth is 9 meters wide and 6.5 meters high. A 40-meter-long tunnel leads to the main chamber, formed in Mesozoic limestone. Measuring 125 meters in length and around 25 in breadth, it has been completely flooded by water, whose depth ranges from a few centimeters to as many as four meters. In places, the roof rises over 10 meters above the water surface.

The entire ceiling is covered by reddish stalactites, whose impressive color is due to the aluminium and iron contained in the rocks. Numerous stalagmites also spring up from the floor, which indicates that, in the past, it used to be dry. The bright white sand and the plethora of hues make the scenery look absolutely out of this world.

What makes this cave really stand out, though, is its paleontological findings, which mostly comprise the bones of at least three adults and one younger elephant. In fact, research has established that they belonged to a hitherto unknown species, which is estimated to have lived 50,000-60,000 years ago. This is why it was named Elephas chaniensis, which means ‘an elephant coming from the area of Chania’. Being larger than the ones living today, and smaller than its ancestor, the Elephas antiquus, this species was 3 meters tall. Though bearing strong similarities to African and Indian elephants, which migrated to the Helladic territory 15 million years ago, when the area between the Ionian Islands and Asia Minor was covered by land, it had thicker bones and a more robust body.

What is more, of particular interest are the deer bones that were also found there and belong to two different species: regular-sized, as well as dwarf deer measuring no more than 30 centimeters. An excessive increase in the number of cervids is believed to have significantly reduced the available food, leading to the extinction of the local elephants. This theory is also confirmed by the fact that the elephant bones were discovered in lower soil layers than those of the deer and other small mammals.

Today, the cave is a refuge to monachus monachus, the Mediterranean monk seals that have become one of the rarest mammals in Europe.

The Elephant Cave is accessible only through guided divers. If you are a certified diver, however, don’t miss this truly unique chance to marvel at the intricate stalactite and stalagmite formations, as well as the fossilized bones embedded within the rocks.



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