24 August 2007

Working with Tethys as an assistant

Working with Tethys as an assistant, during much of this summer, provided me with an opportunity to widen my knowledge. Not only about the dolphins, but also about myself.

Going to a foreign country (I'm Hungarian) and facing the challenges of a different culture is always a pleasant experience. But doing research in the field has been even more challenging, and brought about the big issue of what I really want to do in my life.

While I was working on board, collecting data and recording the behaviour of dolphins, my interest in these wonderful marine mammals has ever increased. But this did not happen on my first sighting. To be honest, on my first survey I just wanted to do a proper job, and this wasn't an easy task because I was required to do so many things at once. At times I felt completely lost…

But there was always someone who helped me out of the mist. This was the pleasant part of working in a team. Together, you work hard to achieve the same goals, collect data in the best possible way, and pay much attention to the details. A large number of details!

During my first sighting I was fully focused on my duties and unable to realise how wonderful these animals are. This would come later on, when I felt more comfortable with my duties. Then, I realized how amazing every single sighting can be.

I could find beauty in every survey. Even if we did not find dolphins, there were so many interesting situations in the wild - you just had to pay attention.

Once we stopped next to a mussel farm, waiting for a sea turtle to surface. While we were in a complete silent, the wide vocal repertoire of a number of terns standing fiercely on the mussel buoys hit our ears. It was an amazing listening to their communication, in their own territory.

If you work at sea, you need to observe wildlife and appreciate that all animals are part of the ecosystem. Even if your focus is primarily on dolphins, it is by paying careful attention to whatever happens around you that you can call yourself a researcher.

If you do so, your days end with a feeling that tomorrow, again, you can go out at sea and be blessed by a sense of wildlife. You can step out of your narrow human path and participate in the larger painting of Nature.

This has been my first experience doing field work, and I must say that it doesn't compare to my previous work in the neurophysiology lab, which I still love. Being in contact with the animals in their natural environment makes a difference, and now I know that this is what I really wanted to do.

I owe a lot of thanks to Joan, Giovanni and Silvia, who taught me so many things. Besides my duties I had opportunities of doing photo-identification, driving the boat, spending long hours on dorsal fin matching, and committing to many other activities that are essential to the project. I also enjoyed sharing my little knowledge with the volunteers. Seeing how interested they are provided me with extra energy, and gave additional meaning to what I was doing.

Overall, this summer has been one of my best. I got involved in a research project, I tried out my skills as a field researcher, and I was motivated to move confidently towards meaningful goals.

Susanna Pereszlenyi

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