20 September 2009

Delphi's Dolphins, 13-19 September

I didn’t know what to expect when I decided to volunteer for the Dolphin Conservation Program in Galaxidi, but I can truly say the experience has been life changing. I doubt I could have received an education like this anywhere else.

From the start, Stefano and Susie made us feel at home, and from our first dinner together, I felt like I had known them for a long time. We were a small group of three volunteers, Ellie from Belgium, Levanna from Indonesia and myself. Not only did we get along well, but also we were an extremely lucky group!

On our first day, the sea was a little rough and we stayed relatively close to shore. We spotted our first dolphin near a fish farm. It was a beautiful bottlenose dolphin. It was exciting to see a dolphin up close in the wild! However, this was nothing compared to the rest of the week.

The next day, the weather cooperated and we were able to travel much further out. After quite a while on the zodiac, I was getting a little tired, but then out of nowhere, we spotted a fin! Then another fin! Then before you knew it, we were surrounded by 16-20 striped dolphins. We were so lucky because this was only Susie’s second sighting of striped dolphins here on this project, and we saw them on our second day. We monitored their behavior for quite some time and saw them jumping, socialising and percussing. I had no idea what percussive behavior was before this. Truthfully, I knew pretty much nothing about the various dolphin species. I had read some of the technical papers prior to arriving, but didn’t retain much. I find that true learning happens when you experience something first hand, especially when you have so much fun doing it! When we returned to the field office, we learned about cropping photos, photo identification and database creation. I enjoyed contributing by helping out with the cropping.

The next day, we travelled for several hours, and traversed the gulf towards the other side. As hard as we tried, we were not able to spot any dolphins. I was very happy when we stopped off for a coffee in Itea. Did I ever need a coffee that day!! I never thought it would be a workout sitting on a boat, but yes it was.

Then on Thursday, we had the best day! The water was like oil, and we made it a long way out from Galaxidi. Again we had a sighting of striped dolphins! There were even juveniles in this group. Susie asked us to count them, but it was so difficult to get an accurate number because there were so many! We got a beautiful view of them when they were riding the bow of the boat. The water was crystal clear and you could see their sleek bodies shining in the sun. Some of the photos look like they were taken underwater because the surface was so calm. It was great. Later on in the field office, we started the process of photo identification, and it appears that we found some dolphins that were not in the database. Very good news indeed!

Our jubilation that day became muted after watching the documentary ‘The End of the Line’. I had no idea that fish supplies worldwide had become so depleted. I did not know that blue fin tuna and swordfish were endangered. I did not know that at salmon fish farms, approximately 5 kg of fish are required as food for each kg of salmon produced by the farm. I have been eating a lot of fish for health reasons, and because it is one of my favourite foods, but I did not know that my actions were supporting an industry whose practices have become so unsustainable. It never occurred to me that in my lifetime, it is possible that world fish supplies will become depleted and the oceans will be forever changed. What kind of a world would that be? It would be absolutely devastating, and from that moment forward, I decided to reduce my fish consumption and to make every effort to consume fish from sustainable sources.

I have always loved the sea and have been exploring it recreationally through snorkelling and scuba diving. However, my interest in the sea now exceeds far beyond its beauty. This is only the beginning of my education as I will actively seek to learn more about conservation and to spread the word about how we can change the collision course we are on.

I had a blast enjoying everything that Galaxidi has to offer. I went swimming almost every day, enjoyed the taverns by the water, and more than anything else, I really enjoyed the company. Many thanks to my fellow volunteers and to Susie and Stefano. And of course, anyone else who comes here needs to know one thing – Stefano is always right because he is Italian!

Alyssa, Canada

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