Today is the last full day of our week-long session with Tethys here on the island of Kalamos in the Eastern Ionian Sea. The time has flown. By the same token, we have learned so much and have had so many new experiences that I already feel like a local, too. It is a nice and sleepy enclave here, and I like it like that!
Annalise and Silvia – two Italian researchers and our fearless leaders - run the program like pros. At 6:30am each day, they are up, setting out a simple breakfast of juice, tea, coffee, cereals and toast with Nutella. They put on a little Norah Jones or Jack Johnson around 6:45am and that is our little musical cue to GET OUT OF BED!!! It is a bit tough at first, but slowly you come out of the fog and remember why you are here (Hint: it is NOT just about the dolphins!). By 7:15am they are down at the boat, a motorized inflatable called ‘Megaloceto’ – The big cetacean! And by 7:30am, we are off across the bay, to check out a fish farm on the outskirts of Mytikas before heading out to open sea. To clarify who we are: I am here with Tommy and Lone, a couple from Denmark, and Zsuzsanna – a research assistant of Slovakian heritage who now hails from Hungary. The program can take up to five volunteers at a time, but this week, there are only three of us.
Our job: To help the researchers and staff to spot dolphins and other marine life (fish, sea turtles, birds, etc), observe them, and document them. This data helps scientists to understand not just dolphin behavior, but how these cetaceans figure into the larger landscape – the ecosystem of the Mediterranean and beyond. To do this work, we have had to learn new protocols ranging from using a stop watch and a palmtop to identifying different animals by the shapes and markings on their dorsal fins. Next, we group and match their photos on a computer and input all sorts of other data i.e. their aerial, percussive or stationary behavior, the presence of bird life, fish farms and other boats. It is mostly fascinating, sometimes painstaking but always important work.
Aside from this, there is house work: helping to cook, clean and tend to the boat. Still, there is time for a short swim here, a catnap there…. I do not mind the work; I do not even mind getting up so early. In fact, I have to say, I enjoy the rigors of this experience. I think it is important to remember that we are a team, that we are not here to vacation –and our chores reinforce these notions.
This is not a trip for everyone. It is only for those who love nature, who appreciate the scientific process, who seek to learn, who enjoy long days and hard work, and who believe in giving back. For such people, I highly recommend this incredibly rewarding experience. Though I only got to meet the Tethys’s president, Giovanni Bearzi, and the researcher Joan Gonzalvo, once, and though I still barely know Annalise and Silvia after five days, I know that my experience with Tethys and its mission is only just beginning. I feel inspired to do a lot more, to spread the word and to push for actions that will result in a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable habitat for dolphins, not to mention the rest of us mammals! For everyone else, there is always Mykonos! ;)
Thank you very much for a wonderful week here on the island of Kalamos in the Ionian Sea. We really appreciate your hard work and dedication to save cetaceans and that you made it possible for us to experience the wonderful nature of common bottlenose dolphins and the short-beaked common dolphins. We need more people like you in this world. We have asked a lot of questions during the week, maybe too many, but nonetheless we feel like we know the world of the two species better than we did before arriving last Sunday. And that is of big importance for both of us.
Spreading the words of dolphins and other species, suffering from overfishing, human influence, and pollution, seems more important now than ever. We will for sure think twice about the consequences of our actions in our daily life in Denmark. We have been fortunate to see dolphins three days in a row, two times around Kalamos and one time in the Amvrakikos Gulf. The team collected data, which we worked with during the week. Seeing the dolphins was of course a lovely experience, but analysing the data was really interesting as well. During the day there was also time for fun, having nice conversations together and learning about other cultures, like Italy, Hungary and New York. We can definitely recommend this project to other people interested in dolphins and hope to be back very soon.
Lone and Tommy, Denmark