31 August 2009

Away from the computer and at sea for a day

A problem with a knee has forced me to abandon almost completely the work at sea, to the point that over the last five months spent at our field station in Galaxidi, on the northern shore of the Gulf of Corinth, I've had no chances of meeting my study subject - dolphins - at sea.

While in Greece, I have been devoting most of my time to computer work and have enjoyed very much the return of my collaborators from their daily dolphin surveys, with all their lively stories and hundreds of photos or videos to download. This made me feel quite close to the animals even if I was actually not seeing them.

After many years spent observing dolphins from boats, I can now survive not watching them every day. And yet, it is sometimes sad to look at the calm sea from the coast and not being out on the inflatable.

Today, however, conditions were ideal for a survey: no volunteers around and three of my colleagues (Stefano, Zsuzsanna ad Silvia) ready to take the sea. For a change, I decided to join them, with a commitment to remain seated.

We were blessed by an unusually calm sea. In about six hours of navigation we surveyed a large portion of the study area and found striped and common dolphins that immediatly came to bowride (see photo), although our boat was moving very slowly.

We saw lots of beautiful Cotylorhiza jellyfish, as well as tunicate colonies and individuals (I touched a transparent Salpa for the first time). We sighted a fish school jumping to avoid a predator, spotted what looked like the pectoral and caudal fins of a billfish or a shark, photographed the flight of a shearwater, and enjoyed the deep blue waters of the Gulf, over which every object or animal looked intersting and worth of our attention. We inspected some fish farms far away and recorded their position. Then, we discussed and questioned our research protocols, perhaps for the thousandth time.

Overall, it was a pleasant experience that reminded me of how incredibly lucky we are to be doing this work of dolphin researchers - whether we actually spend a lot of time with the animals or we study them through a computer monitor.

Giovanni Bearzi

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