Hello! My name is Bob Spillman (Dr Bob). Join me as I travel to Greece to study Dolphins on an Earthwatch Expedition!

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Monday, July 12, 2010

Get Involved

This is my final post and I simply want to point the reader to the vast array of educational resources that document the perils that dolphins, and other sea life, face in our oceans.  The best place to learn about the dolphins is at the Earthwatch site that is dedicated to the dolphin project:


You can search their site for the many items it contains on dolphins, as well as other perils the earth faces.  I've picked a couple of their sites that were of particular interest to me.  The first is a post reporting the sighting of a dolphin well known to the staff.  From that blog one can link to summaries of the other volunteer teams that spent time in the Mediterranean.


The link to the blog summary of the trip I was on is:

Scroll down to the trip dated May 3 - June 6.  You can read all of the volunteer comments on the trip.

The overview of the Earthwatch trip is at:
This is the place to go if you have an interest in participating in a future expedition.

A broad overview of the dolphin project, with links to specific videos is found at:
It discusses the techniques and presents some of the data that is taken.  There are also some good photos and educational videos.  The links to the videos are at the bottom of the page.  One of these videos highlights the Earthwatch team in action:  http://www.cetaceanalliance.org/dolphinpeople/index.htm

One of the links takes one to a useful documentary of the "Disappearing Dolphins, along with additional informative links:  http://www.whaletrackers.com/whales-mediterranean-sea/disappearing-dolphins/
One of these informative links discusses the "illegal fishnet industry," : http://www.whaletrackers.com/whales-mediterranean-sea/fishy-business/
I certainly have a different view of "industrial fishing" after learning what these fishnets do to our oceans.  This is a good place to start in any effort to save the dolphin, and one in which Earthwatch is active.

I happened to come across a recent article in the New Scientist that also covers the dolphin's challenges:  http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20727683.100-dolphin-tracking-in-a-giant-greek-bathtub.html

The New Scientist also had a recent article on the blue fin tuna and the failure of nations to agree on measures to protect this rapidly declining fish.  It is a good example of how difficult it is to secure productive political involvement on matters of conservation.  When economic or national interests are at risk, it is the wildlife that loses:  http://www.newscientist.com/blogs/shortsharpscience/2010/03/bye-bye-bluefin.html

Please take a more active role in helping the dolphins.  Donations, writing to politicians, and volunteering can make a difference.  It has to.  And thanks again to the donor who made this trip possible for me.  It was very much appreciated and has reinvigorated my goal of helping the planet.


Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Field Site and Expedition Study

I want to share a few photos and thoughts about the trip experience.  It was a wonderfully organized trip and I believe all of the volunteers would share my appreciation of what Joan and Iva did to make the trip pleasant, productive and educational.  While the dolphin study was always the top priority, they always had our interests in mind when it came to food, sights and comfort.  If a fishing village was located along our dolphin route, we usually managed to be located in that vicinity during mid-day, so that we could enjoy a Greek lunch at a harborside outdoor cafe.  These meals were a very nice break and gave us a chance to converse, try the Greek breads and cheeses, and to observe the types of fishing boats at that location.  I wish I had some photos to share of these small villages that were typically located at the base of a mountain on the waterfront.  Wonderful!

The field site that served as our lodging is located in Vonitsa.  It is a second floor apartment that has been outfitted to provide sleeping and meal facilities that accommodate Joan and Iva as well as the 5 volunteers on this particular trip.  We took turns preparing meals and the staff was always excellent in obtaining the supplies.  Our meal area:

There is actually a third member of the staff that I've not mentioned yet.  He watches the apartment while we are traveling and also assists in meal cleanup.  His name is Poseidon and goes by the nickname Posi:

Posi is a great companion on the porch and he really enjoys his walks.  I really enjoyed early morning coffee on the porch while we watched the new day come.  Cool breezes, sounds of a town waking up, coffee, and a happy dog make an excellent environment for reflection.  It was a great energy builder for the day.

My travel to Vonitsa involved a flight from Boston to Athens, followed by a 5 hour bus trip to Vonitsa.  The schedules make a same-day connection nearly impossible, so I spent one night in Athens both coming and going.  A recommended Hotel was the Art Gallery Hotel, a very nice small hotel with some room options for saving money.  Two benefits I had not realized until I got there were 1) only 1 1/2 blocks from a subway terminal, and 2) located at the base of the Acropolis of Athens.  I checked in and immediately headed up the mountain to the Acropolis.  It was surreal to be in the middle of what most of us epitomize as the heart of ancient Greece.

The Parthenon was being renovated, but one is still transported back into ancient Greece and cast into awe that such structures could have possibly been built 500 - 600 years BC.  One portion of the site is constructed from 8,000 two-ton blocks of stone.  The columns and artwork from that period are amazing.

The Acropolis museum was a very good investment.  It documents the history of the  Acropolis and focuses particularly on the artwork.  The museum has tried to reassemble the actual artwork by purchasing the known pieces.  It has made plaster replicas of those pieces it cannot get. 

The Temple of Zeus is nearby the Acropolis.  Although there is little left, it still radiates the importance this god has in Greek mythology.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Trip Completion

I have to say that this was a remarkable adventure.  I wish to thank the anonymous donor who made it possible and the organization and staff of Earthwatch who are doing hard, dedicated work to help save our environment. 

I need to apologize to you, the reader, for the way in which this blog is organized.  My intent was to add my day's experience to the blog while I was in Greece.  I had NOT prepared myself for the possiblities that 1) the Greek language uses the original Greek symbols of tau, epsilon, omega, delta, etc., 2) that the computer keyboards would use Greek letters, and 3) that internet sites all have a Greek translation which come up automatically at the local internet cafe.    Imagine reading CNN in the Greek language.  I was able to access my own email account in English and what was posted on this blog was added by my wife as she tried to interpret my communication with her.  I'm back now, so this is my own summary.

Why this was a "Remarkable Trip"

Our team leaders, Joan and Iva were experienced, patient, and inspirational.  They worked hard to get complete, accurate data.  This is the type of documentation that is essential in forming solid management decisions and, more importantly, convincing citizens of the need for action.  It takes a lot of hard work and relentless dedication to be successful.  The Mediterranean dolphins are in good hands, but the goal of saving the dolphins, and other sealife, are all in jeopardy unless the rest of us help insure that action is taken.

It was my conclusion that I need to do much more to help and to stop hoping politicians will make good decisions on the environment with respect to sealife.  Our dependence on the ocean has grown to the point that it cannot sustain the rate and type of pressures we are putting on it.  But decisions to limit fishing and pollution are met with great resistance from the people and corporations that depend on the sea for their livelihood.  More on this later.

First, I'd like to share some of the brighter moments.  Upon my return, I was always asked the same initial question:  "Did you have fun?"  It was not "How are the dolphins doing?"  The trip was fullfilling, not fun, technically speaking.  It was a working trip and we spent most of our time on the water searching for dolphins.  Certainly, Greece is a beautiful country and I must admit I enjoyed the views, but most of our time was spent searching for and recording behaviours of the dolphins.  The boat was equiped with a recording GPS unit that would track our position over time. 

Information recorded at a sighting included position, number of dolphins, distance from boat, bird activity, feeding activity, dive times, social behaviors, and any other notable event.  Joan would control the boat with his feet while taking photos of the dolphins for later identification.  His was able to take sharp photos with a telescopic lens while standing in a roicking boat and shouting instructions to Iva and the volunteers.  He had a sixth sense of where the dolphins might surface and caught some spectacular photos as a result.  The following photos were taken by Joan and are copyrighted to Tethys Research Institute in Milano, Italy.  More on Tethys can be found under the "Great Links" on this blog.


This photo was taken when we found a group of dolphins who seemed particularly curious and playful. They didn't try to evade us and a couple were curtious enough to "bow ride" alongside the boat as it was moving. They would swim just below the surface of the water within what seemed like touching distance. The reponse from the volunteers was a resounding, and harmonious "oohhhhaaahhhhh." 

We were also fortunate to see a number of moms with their calves. 

Even I had to start loving baby pictures when I saw the eyes, playfulness, and bonding behavior.

We usually spotted dolphins in groups, such as this one:

We would sometimes spot single dolphins joining a group, which was recorded as part of the sighting.  The photographs were used to identify individual dolphins by the often characteristic markings on their dorsal fins.  I enlarged the photo of the calf and mom from above and if you look at the area defined by the arrow you can see the types of markings we used:  Joan and Iva have compiled a large database of photos that we used to find the ID of the dolphin.  Other possible markings include sections of the fin that were missing due to attacks or accidents, and the overall shape and proportion of the fin.  In some cases the IDs were easy, but most required very close examination since the direction of the photos is always a little different. 

Our base was a second floor apartment in the small seaside town of Vonitsa that housed the office, kitchen, and sleeping bunks and was just a short walk to the water.  An old castle overlooked the town and the boardwalk was lined with inviting outdoor restuarants.  We had good opportunities to explore the area between activities.  The Greek food was great and the ambience invigorating.  I was struck by the tendancy for people to engage in very active discussions over their meals outside on a patio.  This is a wonderful way to promote communication, even among strangers.

I will add more to this blog as to why we need to concern ourselves with the health of our oceans and aniumals such as the dolphins.  I am committed to adding my support to achieving the goals set forth by Tethys and Earthwatch.  This experience will become a lesson plan for my fall science classes and I expect to have a list of actions that all of us can take to help.

Remember, these are not my photos.  They were taken by Joan and belong to Tethys.