(written upon request for the Earthwatch Institute web site)
From March 2006 I settled in Greece where I am in charge of year-round research in the Amvrakikos Gulf. Together with Giovanni Bearzi, I lead the ‘Dolphins of Greece’ project supported by the Earthwatch Institute.
Before moving here, I had been working intermittently with the Tethys Research Institute in Greece since 1999. From the very beginning, I fell in love with the island of Kalamos, its surroundings and the kindness of local people. In those crystal-clear waters I made my first dolphin sighting.
When Tethys offered me the opportunity of taking care of a new project in the Amvrakikos Gulf and settle in the beautiful village of Vonitsa, it just felt like the right thing to do. Obviously, it wasn’t easy to leave behind family, friends and my hometown (the gorgeous Barcelona), but I guess it was part of the challenge. After over two years of living in Greece the decision has proven to be good.
The semi-closed Amvrakikos Gulf has a high density of bottlenose dolphins and its calm waters make it an ideal place to the study these animals. However, the Gulf is becoming increasingly eutrophic and polluted as a result of human pressure. Management priority should be given to curtailing eutrophication and pollution and incrasing water exchange with the open Sea - that has been reduced by port construction and other infrastructure.
My life in Vonitsa changes a lot depending on whether we have volunteers participating in our field courses or not. As dolphin research must be conducted year-round with consistent methods, my main task while volunteers are at the field base is to ensure that field work and data collection are done properly. I must keep up with their expectations and do my best to convey a conservation message and involve them in everything we do. To accomplish this task, the help of one or two research assistants is crucial. My assistants devote much time to looking after the volunteers’ needs and they supervise their work at the field base, after 4-5 hours of intensive work at sea.
While the volunteers are here, one of the things I enjoy the most are our conversations over dinner. We normally talk about the day’s events. That dolphin bow-riding who stared at us while gracefully gliding below our boat. The feeding frenzy of a flock of seagulls taking advantage of dolphins schooling fish to the surface. A couple of male loggerhead sea turtles ‘wrestling’ a few meters away from us... Living with people with different backgrounds, sharing their thoughts, emotions and worries towards the future of our planet is mostly a pleasant experience.
When I am alone or with research assistants (usually marine biology students) we carry on with our survey effort and data collection, but I can afford to devote more time to other aspects of the project. This includes organising educational and public awareness activities at local schools or working with local fishermen to investigate interactions between dolphins and fisheries.
In the winter, one of the things I enjoy the most is walking early in the morning along the seaside, in the good company of my dog Posi, looking at the mountains on the opposite side of the Gulf with their hills covered by snow and the flocks of sea birds flying around the small wooden boats of local fishermen while they are hauling their nets. And, of course, I enjoy being at sea in the company of dolphins. It is then that being here makes perfect sense.
31 July 2008
30 July 2008
Una volta approdati a Kalamos si entra nella Grecia che tutti noi abbiamo in mente. La Grecia delle isole selvagge, dell'acqua cristallina, del silenzio rotto solo dal canto delle cicale.
Alla base si respira un'atmosfera magica, la casa è rustica e al tempo stesso accogliente e alla sera si mangia in giardino, sotto un fantastico cielo stellato, accompagnati dalle vocalizzazioni dell'assiolo.
Dopo un intero anno come assistente di campo per lo Ionian Dolphin Project di Amvrakikos, ho voluto partecipare al progetto di Kalamos per capire meglio le problematiche legate a questo luogo incantevole, un tempo sede di incontri regolari di delfini comuni, tursiopi, tonni, pesci spada e foche monache, oggi oggetto di una pesca intensa e mal regolamentata, che sta mettendo a rischio l'intero ecosistema.
Devo dire di essere stata molto fortunata perchè alla mia prima uscita in mare, dopo non molte ore di navigazione, abbiamo avvistato due delfini comuni, una madre col piccolo! Che emozione, il primo delfino comune della mia vita! Il mare era piuttosto mosso, perciò siamo riusciti a seguirli solo per una mezz'ora, ma negli occhi di tutti si vedeva la gioia e la concentrazione degne di un evento ormai raro e preziosissimo.
La mia seconda uscita invece è stata deliziata da un gruppo di cinque tursiopi: Spiti, una vecchia conoscenza del luogo, assieme a quattro giovani, molto attivi e giocosi. Siamo rimasti con loro a lungo, ma nessuno a bordo del gommone,accennava a un minimo di stanchezza. La generale difficoltà nel trovare i delfini si accompagna infatti a un grande entusiasmo nel momento in cui si avvistano e sono sicura che anche i volontari percepiscano l'importanza che ogni avvistamento riveste.
Dai racconti dei colleghi penso a come deve essere stata Kalamos solo quindici anni fa. Un paradiso ancora incontaminato. Immagino la frustrazione di chi segue questo progetto dal suo inizio e che, nonostante l'impegno e il duro lavoro, ha dovuto assistere al progressivo degrado ambientale e alla scomparsa di molte forme di vita. E' un processo drammatico che va fermato prima che sia troppo tardi e il contributo di ognuno di noi può essere determinante.
Ringrazio tutti i componenti del delizioso team che mi ha accompagnata in questa esperienza, in particolare Silvia e Annalise, le due responsabili di campo che mi hanno accolta e coinvolta da subito in ogni aspetto del lavoro, che stanno conducendo con grande entusiasmo e professionalità.
Pubblicato da Giovanni Bearzi a 06:50
27 July 2008
On July, 17th, Earthwatch volunteer Larissa Karan and I held a video conference with a group of school children from Virgil Middle School in Los Angeles, California.
Larissa teaches science to students with special needs. She does that in the most densely populated area of Los Angeles. As an educator, Larissa wanted to share with her students her experience with Tethys researchers studying bottlenose dolphins in the Amvrakikos Gulf.
Larissa received an expedition scholarship from Earthwatch to participate in the Dolphins of Greece expedition, with the aim of passing on to students her field experience. Her motivation, enthusiasm and commitment to teaching motivated me to participate in a video conference with kids from her school. It was a unique opportunity for students to ask questions about dolphins, research and marine conservation.
Answering the questions posed by the kids and seeing Larissa in action for about an hour was a touching experience. If you are curious about the kids’ questions and delivered answers, you may want to check Larissa’s web page.
Pubblicato da Giovanni Bearzi a 05:50
26 July 2008
Osservare i delfini? In mare? In Grecia? Collaborare con un gruppo di ricercatori?
Confesso tutto il mio scetticismo quando la mia compagna mi fece questa proposta! “Ma io non sono uno studioso… La vita nel mare mi appassiona e mi affascina, ma… Che razza di aiuto posso dare a chi studia i delfini del Mediterraneo?”
Ed eccomi qui, qualche mese dopo, con la mia valigia troppo grande per questo luogo idilliaco che è l’isola di Kalamos. Serve veramente poco in questo ambiente informale, dove tutti (nella bellissima casetta di Episkopi) facciamo le stesse cose, condividiamo momenti di lavoro e di svago.
I delfini, certo, quelli li ho incontrati davvero! Un giorno ho trascorso ore a seguire le loro bizze dal gommone che, sapientemente condotto dalle giovani ricercatrici di Tethys, andava loro dietro senza mai interferire con la loro attività. Anzi, erano loro, i delfini, ad avvicinarsi a noi incuriositi, sbalordendoci con i loro salti e le loro evoluzioni!
Un grazie speciale a Silvia, Annalise, Elisa e Kelsea per la loro disponibilità, affabilità e simpatia, che hanno permesso a un profano quale io sono, di vivere questa indimenticabile esperienza!! Un saluto anche ai miei compagni/e di avventura: Marianna, Aliki, Noemi e al giovanissimo Paolo! Un abbraccio.
La casa bianca con le ante blu, il mare e il canto delle cicale, le piroette dei delfini e l’entusiasmo di tutti… come si può lasciare tutto questo?
Ma gli amici restano e le esperienze di questa settimana sono parte di me. Se prima raccoglievo i sacchetti abbandonati sulla spiaggia per senso del dovere, ora farò la stessa cosa con l’amore ed il rispetto che sento per i nostri amici marini.
Conoscere per amare e rispettare, una vacanza ricca di entusiasmo, arricchimento e crescita. Grazie Silvia e Annalise. Grazie Elisa, Kelsea, Marianna, Aliki, Paolo e Germano.
Quella della Tethys, per mio conto, è un’esperienza fantastica e anche molto educativa.
Si parte la mattina presto verso le 7.30 in gommone, alla ricerca dei delfini. Nel caso si trovassero, inizia la parte più divertente e bisogna lavorare con l’attrezzatura da ricerca. Alle 11.00 ci si ferma per bere qualche cosa e dopo mezz’ora si riparte. Alle 14.00 si rincasa e si mangia qualche cosa. Dopo il pranzo c’è il tempo libero fino alle 18.00 e in quattro ore si può fare il bagno, dormire, leggere, rilassarsi, ecc. Alle 18.00 si guarda un video e dopo si lavora sulla foto-identificazione, che consiste nell’identificare i delfini attraverso le cicatrici e le tacche che hanno sulla pinna. Finito tutto ciò, si cucina e si mangia.
Questo è a grandi linee ciò che si fa. Però è difficile spiegare la bellezza di vedere uno o più delfini saltare e fare acrobazie, quindi il mio consiglio è di venire a provarlo di persona, e vi posso assicurare che passerete un’ottima vacanza!
Paolo (13 anni), Italy
First and foremost, I think that my fellow colleagues and I were very lucky to see dolphins since the external influences have become a serious threat to all maritime species in the waters of Kalamos. When I saw the two common dolphins, Nigel and Nigel-son4, I felt that something got stuck in my throat – I was not enlightened, but I wanted to cry because of the gratitude I felt that these fascinating creatures are still alive and living in this place.
How can it be that something so wonderful, and the world it is living in is continuously exploited and destroyed? That is not the only question I asked myself during my stay in Kalamos.
To be with like-minded people who do care and do something about the problem made me feel better, but nevertheless I have doubts about the future of the dolphin population of Kalamos.
Thanks to Tethys, there are substantial research results at hand, which prove the constant decline of common dolphins in this region. If the Greek Government does not see the potential of this area, considering both sustainable fishing methods and environmentally friendly tourism, one of the last natural treasures of Greece will disappear.
However, I want to thank everyone for the fruitful, cross-cultural and enriching exchange.
Silvia for her patience and her calm and comprehensible attitude towards all kind of problems. Your Greek is great! Annalise for her joy to share her knowledge with us. You are not small at all! You both work so hard and the field station (and Tethys) would be NOTHING without personalities like you! Elisa for her charming smile and her great skills in assisting us during the sighting of the dolphins. Kelsea for her openness, the fish face :0) and her patience with all the Italians! Aliki for your input and great humor and the laughter while freezing on the inflatable. Noemi for her hands and her interest towards everything. Germano for all the help and kindness and the red wine. You two are such a great couple! Paolo – thanks to you I know how it is not to freeze – you will stay in my mind drinking Ice Tea out of a frozen glass on a cold, cloudy and rainy day. I won't forget you!
Pubblicato da Giovanni Bearzi a 20:12
24 July 2008
La stagione di ricerca è da poco iniziata e siamo a un passo dall’en-plein. Abbiamo avvistato sette delle otto specie di cetacei regolarmente presenti nel Santuario: balenottera comune, capodoglio, stenella striata, grampo, globicefalo, zifio e tursiope. All’appello manca solo il delfino comune, i cui avvistamenti nella nostra area di studio (a volte relativi a pochi esemplari all’interno di gruppi ben più numerosi di stenelle striate) sono un evento assai raro.
Scrutando con attenzione la superficie del mare capita spesso di vedere anche alcuni degli animali che condividono con i cetacei le acque del Santuario. Come le tartarughe marine Caretta caretta che nei giorni di mare calmo si crogiolano in superficie al calore dei raggi del sole. In una giornata particolarmente fortunata ne abbiamo incontrate quattro, due delle quali superavano il mezzo metro di lunghezza.
In più occasioni abbiamo osservato stormi di gabbiani reali al primo anno di età, riconoscibili dalla caratteristica colorazione marrone del piumaggio. Le sterne sono sempre numerose mentre un esemplare di Sula bassana ha accompagnato pochi giorni fa il nostro ritorno in porto a Sanremo, volando proprio sopra la nostra testa.
A circa 25 miglia dalla costa, due piccioni selvatici hanno sostato in cerca di riposo sull’albero di maestra della barca e le berte minori, dal volo inconfondibile fatto di cinque battiti d’ali seguiti da una lunga planata radente alla superficie, hanno spesso accompagnato i nostri avvistamenti in mare aperto.
I tonni e i pesci spada li vediamo quando saltano o inseguono banchi di pesce azzurro ma il nostro interesse è stato catturato dai numerosi pesci luna, protagonisti in molte occasioni di spettacolari salti fuori dall’acqua, un comportamento che nessuno di noi aveva mai osservato.
Ogni qualvolta ci siamo avvicinati a qualche oggetto gallegiante alla deriva vi abbiamo trovato, al riparo dal sole e dai predatori, qualche giovane esemplare di cernia.
Tra gli organismi appartenenti allo zooplankton ci è capitato di osservare la Salpa maxima, un tunicato stretto parente delle ascidie le cui colonie formate da più individui superano i 20 metri di lunghezza e le meduse, come le velelle, cibo prediletto dai giovani pesci luna, la medusa Pelagia noctiluca e la splendida Rhizostoma pulmo, il cui grosso ombrello trasparente presenta un margine sfrangiato di colore blu intenso.
Ci stupiamo di come il Mediterraneo sia ancora in grado di sostenere una tale diversità faunistica, se si considerano l’antropizzazione delle coste, l'inquinamento chimico e acustico e il depauperamento delle risorse ittiche, spesso effettuato con mezzi illeciti, che rappresentano una minaccia costante per il delicato equilibrio di questo oceano in miniatura.
Pubblicato da Giovanni Bearzi a 15:04
23 July 2008
Amazing! It was our first day of surveying for the Ionian Dolphin Project around the island of Kalamos (Greece). We were looking for dolphins for about two hours, when we had a great sighting along the coast of Meganisi island... Something rounded and black popped out of the water, very close to a pebbled beach. It disappeared in the water... and came out again.
Binoculars in hands our biologist onboard shouted out: “It’s a MONK SEAL!” It was the first time I had seen one in the wild. I was so happy: finally I could see one of these disappearing marine mammals.
The monk seal Monachus monachus was slowly swimming along the coast to reach the next small bay. It was about two meters long. It was five minutes of unbelievable sighting for a biologist. Some years ago I’ve been working on public awareness at the National Marine Park of Sporades (Aegean Sea, Greece) dispersing leaflets about the biology and conservation of monk seals. They struggle to survive in very few places in the Mediterranean Sea, mostly around remote and quiet islands with pebbled beaches hidden in caves. How lucky we were to get to see one of them! It was unforgettable.
Aliki Hadjidakis, Switzerland/Greece
Pubblicato da Giovanni Bearzi a 14:36
20 July 2008
A week of dolphins, fun and good company. Thank you Tethys for a warm welcome and the opportunity to share an insight into the invaluable work you do. Especially a big thank you to the dolphins who introduced themselves on our first day. Keep up the good work and hopefully one day the dolphins will return to Greece in the numbers they once were.
A great experience, the Tethys crew are informative and welcoming and work hard to make your stay enjoyable, safe and involved in the different aspects of research and conservation. Location and accommodation splendid. Suggestion tip: show the “EarthOcean” video on the project on the first night as this gives an excellent introduction to what Tethys is achieving within this field of research.
Scrutare la superficie del mare argentato quando il sole ancora rimane appoggiato sulle montagne e tendere tutta la propria attenzione verso un luccichio o un’ombra sospetta tra le onde, questo è ciò che ho amato di più in questi sei giorni. E’ stata un’esperienza decisamente interessante sotto ogni punto di vista. Oltre ad avere allungato lo sguardo sul mare greco per avvistare i delfini, ho teso non meno impegnativamente le orecchie per captare più inglese possibile. Ringrazio Tethys, Annalise, Silvia e i volontari per ogni cosa e spero che questa appassionante ricerca continui con lo stesso spirito. Grazie a Spiti, uno dei delfini avvistati, per averci lusingato l’ultimo giorno con una serie di meravigliosi salti e capovolte.
Pubblicato da Giovanni Bearzi a 14:30
19 July 2008
It was such a fantastic experience working with the Tethys research team in Vonitsa. Eli, Joan and Gio really made me feel at home here, and I learned so much about these fascinating creatures! I especially am thankful for the opportunity to share this experience with my students in Los Angels through video conferencing with Joan. Eli really worked hard to teach us how to do the identifications, and made the task both interesting and enjoyable. The birthday party allowed our last supper to be a joyous occasion instead of a somber one, and for that I am relieved. This is a week that my students and I will remember forever!
This was a terrific experience! Joan, Eli and Giovanni were terrific teachers and made me feel comfortable at home even in the smoltering heat. I knew nothing about dolphins before I arrived, but now I leave here with fairly extensive knowledge and can even identify dolphins by their dorsal fins (quite an accomplishment)! Our birthday party made our last night a fun experience, and not so upsetting to be leaving this beautiful place. But most of all, I will miss my dear Posi (the dog) and my good morning kisses from him. I hope to be able to return someday...
An unforgettable experience... We woke every morning to crisp, cool temperatures and excitement about how many dolphins we would see that day. We had four terrific sightings, including a lot of bowriding, percussive and aerial behavior, some foraging, and even a dolphin stretching after a short nap. My most spectacular experience was when we had three dolphins bowriding and could hear their whistling noises. It was truly breathtaking! The scenery is beautiful. The food was fabulous. Eli and Joan did an excellent job teaching us about the work they are doing here. We shared some good laughs and conversation. I am honored to have been a part of this expedition team. I will share my experiences with my friends and family for years to come.
Dolphins of Greece
Additional information on bottlenose dolphins in the Amvrakikos Gulf:
Bearzi G., Agazzi S., Bonizzoni S., Costa M., Azzellino A. 2008. Dolphins in a bottle: abundance, residency patterns and conservation of bottlenose dolphins Tursiops truncatus in the semi-closed eutrophic Amvrakikos Gulf, Greece. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems 18(2):130-146. (502 Kb)
Pubblicato da Giovanni Bearzi a 15:39
17 July 2008
Before I left for my Earthwatch expedition, I received a farewell email from a friend saying that she hoped the Dolphins of Greece “far exceeded my expectations”. What I witnessed the first day out at sea was far beyond anything I could have ever imagined. The dolphins were surrounding us as if to welcome us. They put on a beautiful performance!
I cried that day on the boat, and on all of our other sightings. Each time being struck by their magnificence. Seeing them in their natural environment can not compare to seeing them in an aquarium or show. In the Gulf, it is as if you are spying on them in their home. I so appreciate their hospitality!
Having the opportunity to work with and observe the research team was a unique one in many ways. Their passion and endless dedication to the animals is admirable and not often seen in many other work places. Despite the fact that they have been observing dolphins for many years, there is no mistaking the joy that overcomes them when a dolphin is “in sight”. One might think that they are seeing them for the very first time, just as the volunteers are.
Outside of the boat, their commitment to the project continues. The amount of time and energy it takes to input and analyze the data is incredible and very complex. Even with the assistance of volunteers like me, the project encompasses many factors that require ongoing attention. I am most struck by the struggles Tethys faces with gaining the necessary funding to keep the project going. It saddens me to see such efforts being made for such a worthwhile cause, with so little acknowledgement and support.
As a volunteer, I question how that might be able to change... (hmmm very very big question mark). Perhaps the most unique aspect of the research team was their ability to create a warm and fun loving environment (the food and wine helped a lot!). It was wonderful to have the chance to build relationships and learn a bit about their respective cultures and ways of life.
Tomorrow is my last day on the boat and I already feel a sense of sadness. This expereince has impacted me in a way that will be with me for always. Thanks to the dolphins, the town of Vonista and Joan, Eli and Giovanni for providing me with such an enriching and powerful experience.
Debbie, New Jersey
Dolphins of Greece
Pubblicato da Giovanni Bearzi a 07:28
13 July 2008
Another early morning at the Tethys field base in Kalamos. The sun had not risen long, but Silvia was already walking up the path behind the house towards our 'land observation point'. While the rest of the crew made their way to the boat in preparation for another hot day of surveying, Silvia had spotted 4 bottlenose dolphins in the channel between Mytikas and Kalamos.
Receiving the news via cell phone, we soon sped from Episkopi towards the assumed location, all intently looking around for the early morning visitors. Soon enough, we found the group at the Mytikas fish farm, which is appearing to be a common meeting place.
We started the behavioural sampling routine at 7:30AM! Throughout the 2.5 hours of data uploading, we observed countless social interactions with percussive and aerial displays. As curious as we were towards the group, they returned the intrigue by spyhopping a few times and often surfacing face first before taking a breath.
There were a few instances that caught our interest. One was that the group appeared to be separated into two couples that usually surfaced together. At one point in the sighting, a school of fish about 15m from the fish farm were jumping out the water with the dolphins around. Another peculiar observation was how fearless the dolphins were in the fish farm. Without any precaution, the dolphins were racing, jumping and socializing around the cages. The dolphins appeared to be unaffected by the fish farm boats driving around. Some of the workers seemed to appreciate the presence of the dolphins and watched them every now and then.
Returning back at the base and uploading the wonderful pictures taken by Annalise, we soon realized that the 4 bottlenose were none other than the 4 juveniles that have been spotted numerous times this season. The four were usual found with Spiti, the male with the dorsal fin cut off; but in this case, he appeared to be elsewhere.
Only time will tell what the Mytikas fish farm has in store for us in the future!
Pubblicato da Giovanni Bearzi a 05:38
12 July 2008
Nelle acque del Santuario Pelagos la balenottera comune è la specie di cetaceo che più frequentemente viene collisa dalle grosse imbarcazioni come traghetti, cargo e petroliere. Il problema delle collisioni, che rappresentano nei nostri mari la principale causa di morte per questo misticeto, si acuisce durante l’estate quando la frequenza dei collegamenti marittimi e quindi il numero di traghetti aumenta considerevolmente, proprio nella zona frequentata dalle balenottere per alimentarsi di krill Meganyctiphanes norvegica.
I dati a disposizione di Tethys indicano che nel Mediterraneo, nel periodo compreso tra il 1972 e il 2001, 43 balenottere sono decedute in seguito a una collisione, il che corrisponde a un tasso medio di mortalità di 1,4 animali all’anno. Si tratta tuttavia di un dato parziale che sottostima la portata del problema, dal momento che sono una piccola parte dei casi di mortalità da collisione sono verosimilmente registrati. Inoltre non tutte le balenottere vittime di collisioni muoiono. Circa il 2,5% delle balenottere avvistate durante le nostre ricerche portano i segni di una collisione sul proprio corpo.
Molti di noi hanno incontrato Codamozza, una balenottera il cui lobo sinistro della pinna coudale è stato probabilmente reciso da un’elica, o Bp499 sul cui corpo, vicino alla pinna dorsale, sono presenti grossi tagli trasversali.
Per quanto grandi possano essere questi animali, è praticamente impossibile vederli di fronte alla prua di una grande nave, poichè anche nel momento in cui respirano in superficie le balenottere mostrano solo una minima parte del corpo.
Lo scorso 28 giugno abbiamo avuto modo di osservare la dinamica di un possibile incidente con un esemplare solitario lungo circa dieci metri. L’animale nuotava in superficie in un’area in cui erano presenti una nave cargo, un motoscafo d’altura che si muoveva a elevata velocità e tre traghetti, uno dei quali era in rotta di collisione con la balenottera, a circa 2 miglia nautiche di distanza. Lo skipper di Pelagos - la nostra barca da ricerca - ha subito capito quanto fosse concreto il rischio di una collisione e ha segnalato il pericolo via radio al comandante del traghetto. Questo ha prontamente accostato a dritta in modo da evitare l’animale.
Quanto accaduto mostra come grosse imbarcazioni pesanti migliaia di tonnellate, se avvertite tempestivamente, siano in grado di evitare gli animali con un rapido cambiamento di rotta. L’evento ha stimolato una vivace discussione tra i ricercatori a bordo riguardo alle possibili soluzioni del problema.
Pubblicato da Giovanni Bearzi a 10:35
10 July 2008
Following a recommendation by the ACCOBAMS Scientific Committee, a Steering Committee and a Working Group have recently been established: one to address the status and threats to fin whales and the other on ship strikes on all species in the ACCOBAMS area.
The Working Group will liaise with riparian and other nations to obtain information concerning both cetaceans and vessel traffic, that will enable to identify areas where cetaceans (especially fin and sperm whales) are susceptible to ship strikes.
This process will require progress on a number of items, including: 1) reporting of vessel movements and density at appropriate geographical scales from maritime companies, involving both bottom-up (i.e., awareness, involvement) and top-down (i.e., regulatory) approaches; 2) mapping the temporal and geographic distribution and abundance of cetaceans in relationship to similar information on vessel traffic to identify potential higher risk areas; 3) estimation of numbers of ship strikes including data from strandings networks and photo-identification studies; and 4) modeling exercises to assess potential threats at the population level.
This work will ultimately lead to the creation of a Mediterranean network, including ACCOBAMS Range States, ACCOBAMS Partners, different research institutes, and concerned shipping companies to build a central data base on ship strike data, to facilitate information exchange and data sharing.
The Steering Group is chaired by Tethys vice-president Simone Panigada, in collaboration with Prof. Phil Hammond from the Sea Mammal Research Unit at the University of St. Andrews and Dr. Greg Donovan, Head of Science of the International Whaling Commission. Members of the working group range from Mediterranean experts to international scientists sharing an interest on ship strike issues.
Pubblicato da Giovanni Bearzi a 08:37
09 July 2008
It’s the 7th of July and we just came back from the sea. This morning we decided to visit the fish and mussel farms in the western side of the Amvrakikos Gulf. Aquaculture is quite widespread in our study area and it is interesting to monitor the growth and development of this local industry. Transcribing the notes taken in the small tape recorder, I review today’s events and my mind gets back to those moments.
On board of our inflatable we visited four fish farms and three mussel farms. Finding bottlenose dolphins near one of these facilities was nothing really new. What was amazing to me, after these years spent regularly surveying the Gulf, was spotting so many sea turtles: by the end of the day we ended up recording a total of 18 encounters with these marine reptiles.
On our last fish farm stop we also saw a school of mullets swimming at the surface, very close to one of the cages, and then a group of six graceful bull rays Pteromylaeus bovinus swimming underneath. I was fascinated by their kite-like silhouette while they were gliding underwater, the body shape softened by the murky waters of the Gulf. Two of these rays looked like they were were rubbing their bellies against a chain anchoring the fish cage.
While all this was going on, two bottlenose dolphins came and started diving around the cages, while another large dolphin group could be seen at a distance, surface feeding in a cloud of seagulls and terns.
This was one of those days when one gets back home completely exhausted, but also with a big smile. One of those days that help recharge your batteries after months of intensive field work and remind you how lucky you are, working in such a unique place. Just one of those unforgettable days.
Photo credit: FishBase
Pubblicato da Giovanni Bearzi a 05:19
08 July 2008
(click on the photo to enlarge it)
The first week of July ended with a mysterious encounter. While navigating on transect we spotted something in the distance. At first it appeared to be waves, possibly even produced by a boat. Nonetheless, we decided to check it out.
Arriving at the position a large school of small fish began to jump synchronously, as if they were a single entity. Soon afterwards, we observed a large fin behind the school. A shark? Maybe... but with the binoculars we could see a peculiar pattern of light and dark blue stripes on the body of the animal.
After seeing a second posterior fin, we moved towards the idea of a swordfish Xiphias gladius - a relatively common encounter in the area. But then, we were wrong again.
Once at home, the digital photographs showed us that the predator was most likely a rather rare and magnificent Mediterranean spearfish Tetrapturus belone preying on a school of garpike Belone belone !
Shiva, Annalise and Silvia
Pubblicato da Giovanni Bearzi a 05:10
07 July 2008
Before working on this project I was unaware of the severity of the problems facing many of the Cetaceans present within the Mediterranean Sea. After helping research into the common dolphin and bottlenose dolphin and learning of the evident decrease in resident populations of both species, I only hope that action will be taken to prevent the extinction of these species in the Ionian Sea and hopefully to help the population recover.
I have enjoyed the last five days working with the Tethys researchers and am pleased to have had the opportunity to contribute to such a worthwhile project. Although I was partly aware of the problems facing marine life due to overfishing and pollution, I didn’t appreciate how urgent the situation is or how severe. The voluntary work has been enjoyable as well as informative; seeing the dolphins, both bottlenose and common, so up close was a unique experience and made the early mornings worth it!
Great time! Beautiful house, amazing Ionian Sea and Kalamos island and of course WONDERFUL dolphins. Thanks to Silvia, Annalise and Shiva who taught us everything about Mediterranean Sea and dolphins behaviour.
Malgosia & Piotr, Poland
Pubblicato da Giovanni Bearzi a 06:15
06 July 2008
The following article by Tethys researchers has just been published on Endangered Species Research:
Bearzi G., Agazzi S., Gonzalvo J., Costa M., Bonizzoni S., Politi E., Piroddi C., Reeves R.R. 2008. Overfishing and the disappearance of short-beaked common dolphins from western Greece. Endangered Species Research 5:1-12.
ABSTRACT: Once one of the most common cetaceans in the Mediterranean Sea, the short-beaked common dolphin has declined throughout the region since the 1960s and in 2003 this population was classified as Endangered in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. Here, we document the species' precipitous decline in eastern Ionian Sea coastal waters across 13 yr. While 150 animals were present in the study area (1050 km2) in 1996, only 15 were observed in 2007. A 12 mo assessment of fishing effort and catch, together with circumstantial evidence, suggests that the decline was caused largely by prey depletion resulting from overfishing. We analyzed the impacts of various fishing gear and estimated the degree of resource overlap between common dolphins and local fisheries. The total biomass removed annually by 308 fishing boats in the study area averaged 3571 t, while that consumed by common dolphins was 17 t. Resource overlap between common dolphins and fisheries—expressed as an average Pianka index of 0.5—differed according to fishing gear, being higher for purse seiners (0.7) and beach seiners (0.4) and lower for bottom trawlers (0.1), trammel boats (0.2) and longliners (0.0). Only about 10 active purse seiners (4% of the total active fishing fleet) were responsible for 33% of the biomass removal, and likely had the greatest impact on prey of common dolphins. This study indicates a high risk of local disappearance of common dolphins in the very near future, unless fishery management measures are implemented immediately. Purse seining should be the main management target.
The pdf version of this article can be downloaded from the link below:
Pubblicato da Giovanni Bearzi a 07:07
04 July 2008
I wasn't on board when Joan and Elisa found the dying newborn, but I support their choice of documenting the event without trying to intervene.
I'm quite sure that they would have done their best to help the baby, should there be any space for meaningful action. But I agree with them that there wasn't any.
Below, I try to explain why.
The fate of the baby dolphin was rather unpredictable. While he obviously had problems, these were of unknown origin and they could have been of temporary nature. We did not know whether the newborn could recover and what was going to happen next. Only towards the end of the observation it became apparent that he was going to die.
Capturing a dolphin in deep open waters cannot be expected to be easy, also considering that adult dolphins were consistently preventing the baby from approaching the resarchers' boat too closely. The likely reaction by the newborn to approaching human swimmers under those circumstances could be avoidance and increased distress.
The researchers on boat had no veterinary experience and carried no medical equipment. The best they could do (provided that they managed to capture the bay dolphin) was keeping him at the surface. This, however, was expected to result in additional stress and overheating, thus increasing rather than decreasing the risk of mortality. Wild dolphins have been reported to die of stress when handled and the risk may be particularly high if the handled animal is already distressed or ill.
Attempts to capture the newborn may have elicited aggressive behaviours by its presumed mother and/or by other adult dolphins, exposing humans to unknown but potentially significant risks, particularly in deep and murky waters. The presence of swimmers was also likely to disrupt the behaviour of the whole group, possibly jeopardizing the repeated and obvious attempts by other dolphins to assist the newborn. This, again, was thought to increase rather than decrease the risk of a potentially fatal outcome.
President, Tethys Research Institute
Pubblicato da Giovanni Bearzi a 19:44
On the 3rd of July, 2008, Tethys researchers Joan Gonzalvo and Elisa Malevolti observed and filmed the agony of a newborn bottlenose dolphin in the semi-closed waters of the Amvrakikos Gulf, western Greece.
The observation lasted about 45 min. The newborn eventually died and sunk in the green murky waters of the Gulf, disappearing from view. The adult dolphins who had been surrounding and assisting the baby left the area. They were followed for about 20 min as they moved away from the place where the newborn had died.
The observations were documented by a video and 104 digital photos.
Watch the video and a selection of 33 photos
For additional information on bottlenose dolphins in the Amvrakikos Gulf see:
Bearzi G., Agazzi S., Bonizzoni S., Costa M., Azzellino A. 2008. Dolphins in a bottle: abundance, residency patterns and conservation of bottlenose dolphins Tursiops truncatus in the semi-closed eutrophic Amvrakikos Gulf, Greece. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems 18(2):130-146. (502 Kb)
Pubblicato da Giovanni Bearzi a 19:00
It’s the 3rd of July and we have been scanning the sea surface on the eastern Amvrakikos Gulf for over an hour. Towards the end the second navigation transect, at 10:10 AM, the familiar spark of the sun reflected on a dolphin’s dorsal fin, far away, tells us where the animals are. Up to now everything seems routine.
But as soon as we approach the dolphins we notice a newborn calf accompanied by two adults surfacing close to him. What initially feels me up with joy and optimism for the welfare of the dolphins inhabiting this wonderful place – a newborn is always good news – is soon replaced by a sad feeling as I realize that this tiny and cute creature is showing clear signs of distress.
His swimming is awkward and his panicking little eyes are wide open, seemingly calling for help. Two adult dolphins are frantically trying to help him on his struggle to stay afloat. Some other dolphins occasionally approach and seem to share a sense of anguish.
The agony of the baby goes on for 45 minutes and at 10.58 he freezes and sinks, disappearing in the green murky waters of the Gulf. We stay with the rest of the group for half an hour, but the newborn has disappeared. At 11:21 we decide to stop the sighting and head back to the field station.
I feel privileged for having witnessed a unique and touching event, but it hurts. It really hurts.
Note: The event described here took place exactly one year after a similar one occurred in the Amvrakikos Gulf on the 3rd and 4th of July, 2007. On those days a bottlenose dolphin mother was observed mourning her dead newborn for several hours.
Pubblicato da Giovanni Bearzi a 07:01
03 July 2008
"There are many reasons why this failure to publish is a scientific crime. The most obvious is that the information is lost to the world. When the scientist who has studied species X for two decades - and published not one jot of data - gets hit by a truck, most of that knowledge will be buried with him or her. The person lying under the truck’s wheels may well have stimulated many colleagues, probably by presenting some findings at conferences (a common dodge to avoid actually writing something up). But without publications, that scientist’s work will have been largely wasted.
Part of the problem, if I may be permitted a dubious food-related metaphor, is that some scientists live for the hunt, not for the cooking and serving. These are individuals who love to solve problems. For them, results always lead to more questions, which lead to more studies, which lead to more questions, and on and on. Instead of taking time to write up the work they’ve finished, they keep returning to the field. The field is fun."
Clapham P. 2005. Publish or perish. BioScience 55(5):390-391.
Pubblicato da Giovanni Bearzi a 08:23
One of the needs of the Pelagos Sanctuary is information on critical habitats for cetaceans. A newly-published study by Simone Panigada, Margherita Zanardelli and other colleagues modelled habitat use and preferences of fin whales and striped dolphins (the two most abundant species in the area) using sighting data collected by Tethys between 1993 and 1999.
Bathymetric features were the most valuable predictors for both species. Sea Surface Temperature values were indicators of striped dolphin and fin whale presence, with both species showing a tendency to prefer colder waters (21–24 °C). Chlorophyll-a levels were selected by the models only for striped dolphins, and with large associated uncertainty; this may be related to the relatively brief period examined (only 2 years) and/or to any functional relationship operating at a different geographical or temporal scale. However there was an indication that Chlorophyll-a could be an important parameter for the distribution of both species.
The results of this study - published in the top scientific journal Remote Sensing of Environment - will be used for assessing critical habitats within the Pelagos Sanctuary and are expected to provide useful information for conservation and management.
For more information:
Panigada S., Zanardelli M., MacKenzie M., Donovan C., Mélin F., Hammond P.H. 2008. Modelling habitat preferences for fin whales and striped dolphins in the Pelagos Sanctuary (Western Mediterranean Sea) with physiographic and remote sensing variables. Remote Sensing of Environment 112:3400-3412.
Pubblicato da Giovanni Bearzi a 06:27
02 July 2008
A large whale surfaces in the early morning on a golden sea surface. You can hear her powerful blow and smell its fishy scent. A shiver gets down your neck and you experience an unexpected sense of brotherhood with that immense animal as she dives in the deep blue waters of the Cetacean Sanctuary.
In the coastal waters of Greece, a gentle dolphin rides the bow wake of the inflatable boat. For a second he looks at you, directly in your eye. You have seen dolphins thousands of times on TV and magazines, but that single glance will stay with you forever. Getting back to the field station with the inflatable feels like riding a horse. The warm summer wind embraces you and there is nowhere else you want to be.
You meet people from different nationalities and share these experiences with them and with the researchers in charge. You see whales and dolphins, but also less popular but equally fascinating animals. Elegant jellyfish performing their endless dance, shearwaters caressing the water with the tip of their wings, little owls singing their night song. Your mind opens to an entirely new world.
The Tethys Research Institute has been studying Mediterranean whales and dolphins for two decades and has become one of the foremost research organizations working in the basin. But it is more than 'just' research. It's about the sea and how it feels to be out at sea - with the wind, the waves and all those amazing marine creatures.
You can join one of the courses organized by Tethys in the Ligurian and Ionian Sea by visiting the relevant section of the Tethys web site.
Pubblicato da Giovanni Bearzi a 13:15
01 July 2008
The new month brings a new resident crew: new volunteers, new experiences and more sightings!
Marking the first day of the second month of the 2008 season was exhilarating, to say the least. With a successful completion of transect C the day before, we began our route towards transect B. Within only 5 minutes of leaving Episkopi, Silvia spotted dolphins between Kalamos Island and Mytikas.
Approaching the dolphin location, we soon realized that there were 8 bottlenose dolphins. Among them, we observed LARA and her current calf. Another individual of the pod was LARASON2, the older son of LARA, born in August 1998. The photoidentification done today was important because we discovered LARASON2 to actually be a female, based on a photo of her genital area.
Approximately an hour of behavioural data included lots of social activity and a variety of aerial and percussive behaviour. At times, the pod would surface all together giving us a beautiful image with Kalamos in the background.
With no clear directionality, the pod soon separated with the juveniles heading towards the Mytikas fish farm and leaving the other individuals. Young and energetic, the juveniles showcased some supposed feeding activity although never passing the orange buoys to the centre of the fish farm. The youngsters did not fail to impress: racing, jumping and showing off as they know best.
Having such an exciting first day of July, we are all pumped for what the magical Ionian Seas has in store for us in the coming days of July. Stay tuned for all the action!
Pubblicato da Giovanni Bearzi a 20:58