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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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.

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