15 September 2008

Unexpected common dolphin sighting

That morning did not start in the usual way. Annalise came into my room all excited saying “Bottlenose dolphins in the channel! Hurry up! We are leaving in a few minutes!”. Everybody was thrilled and we left the port hoping to find them soon.

The sunrise seemed magic as sunrays penetrated the clouds above Kalamos. Silent everywhere, even nature had not woken up yet, but our attention was focused on the duty to find the dolphins. A tiny little white spot in the distance “Look at 11! Could it be dolphins? Let’s check!” As we got closer, our assumption had become a fact. Yes, dolphins! A big group porpoising at high speed. But wait a minute… these are not bottlenose, but common dolphins! It was unbelievable. We quickly set up the equipment, and data collection had started. Soon we were surrounded by the group. This was my the first time with common dolphins, and it just felt great.

Annalise started manoeuvring in a way that could facilitate the photo-identification. I picked up the tape recorder and started recording behavioural data. Everyone was counting the animals as they surfaced. Six, twelve, sixteen, eighteen! Around twenty common dolphins! There were juveniles in the group. Moreover, one… no, two calves, and a very small newborn. It was unbeliavable to see such a tiny dolphin, always surfacing with its mother and almost attached to her.

As they approached the island of Meganisi, we noticed a flock of birds. Maybe some surface feeding was going to occur? Quickly we prepared the equipment for the collection of fish scales. But then we realised that the feeding animals were not dolphins but large tuna! They were feeding near the surface, chasing a school of fish with seagulls joining the frenzy. They were around one meter in length, occasionally jumping out of the water. But we needed to follow our dolphin group, so we recorded the position and left the big predators.

In the meantime the dolphins had become calmer and seemed to be looking for a place to rest along the coast. Annalise manouvered very carefully to avoid any disturbance. Some dolphins where resting at the surface while others started to socialize, particularly the juveniles. Then the whole group got active again and started travelling.

We could collect a large amount of data, which definitely makes a researcher happy and satisfied. However, this sighting was more then just data collection. The fact that some of these rare animals are again around Kalamos filled our hearts with joy. These animals are so important for us.

Zsuzsanna Pereszlenyi

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